CHRISTOLOGY (Notes of 2013)
A Brief Historical View of Christology: Part One
1. If we look at Peter’s speech in Act 2/32 and 36, we can note two important elements: “Jesus” and “Christ”. This Jesus was made Lord and Christ. This Jesus was the man who Peter knew—he was the man who walked the streets of Palestine together with his disciples. This Jesus was the historical man. But after the resurrection, it has been confirmed that the historical man was Christ, the Saviour, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of God, Divine, etc. So there was Peter’s faith in the historical man. A confession of faith about the historical man was established. This confession of faith has been the faith of Christians over centuries. Christians have always viewed Jesus as Christ. Christians have always believed that the man Jesus is Christ.
2. In early Christianity this was normal. Nobody raised issues about the link between Jesus and Christ. But there was the time when hard questions were beginning to rise. We can think of the start of modernity.
3. In modernity there is a strong emphasis on “reason”—our capacity to think and evaluate on our own. We can think based on evidences. In modernity there is a tendency to separate from faith. In can think on my own based on what I see and not based on what I am told to believe in. If someone tells me to believe in angels, I am not obliged to have faith because I have no evidence of angels. In modernity then I rely on my thinking capacity and not on faith. Let us apply this to Christology.
4. In a modern perspective there is no need to believe that Jesus was divine, Son of God, Christ, etc. There is no need to follow the beliefs given by the New Testament. But, we can admit that Jesus was a great man. We can admit that he was a man of high virtues and good moral conduct. Our thinking capacity—our reasoning can allow us to admit this. We cannot talk about divinity and about “sitting at the right- hand of God”. We cannot talk about what faith says—we have no evidence of that. But we are safe if we talk about the real human person. We can even accept that Jesus was a great man. So at the start of modernity, this was the trend. The “real Jesus” was the human Jesus of high virtues.
5. When we talk of modernity we cannot avoid considering modern science. Science developed and became more and more refined in its techniques. Over the course of time science became a high authority. People really saw in science the possibility of access to the historical truth—to what really happened. Through science we can know the “reality”. Applied to Christology this would mean that we can see the “real Jesus”—the Jesus of history. We will not rely on dogmas and faith…we can simply rely on science. To have access to the “real Jesus” of history, we can apply something like the science of history. No, we do not go to theology. We go to science. We even have to be free from faith statements.
6. Notice that in this trend a wide gap has been placed between history and faith. Faith is just an added spice—it is no what we need to know the “real Jesus”. History and historical science can bring us in touch with the “Jesus event”…the actual historical Jesus. We can say: “Jesus yes” and “Christ no”. We say “yes” to the historical reality of Jesus, while we say “no” to the faith confession about him.
7. So, for some time, many started re-writing the story of Jesus. They wrote about Jesus and tried to be as historically accurate as possible. This meant taking distance from the faith confessions of the gospels. Was this successful? No, it was not successful. In fact, it was confusing. As many were re-writing the historical life of Jesus, they were also making all sorts of stories. There were so many different stories about Jesus—which one was “the most accurate”? Nobody could say.
8. Why was there a failure in the attempt to have a historically accurate presentation of Jesus? One main reason for the failure is that there were no other document sources but the Gospels. So no matter how hard a historian would re-write about Jesus, the historian would still rely on the Gospel documents. The Gospel documents however are confessions of faith. They are texts written based on faith. It is impossible to look for a pure historical evidence outside faith confession. No matter how hard a historian would try in making a “pure historical research”, the historical will be obliged to take data from faith statements of the Gospels. So it becomes a very hard task to make a “pure history” and historians will end up making different conclusions.
9. Before we continue, we can stop and ask ourselves: what was the Church doing during all this time? Well, at least in seminaries and in Catholic schools, the Church took a stand. In front of the scientific confusion, the Church emphasized a distance from the scientific discussions regarding faith. If the historical sciences were not so clear with their works, then why join the confusion? The Church preferred to stick to the dogmatic affirmations of faith. Let the sciences worry about their researches, the Church will continue conserving the dogmatic faith. (Many of our older generations have been marked by this—and so we see a strong conservative tendency among them.)
10. Let us continue. If the sciences could not come up with an accurate historical presentation of Jesus, what can be done? At one point, some theologians (mainly from the Protestant side) started to say: “no problem”! Why worry about the science and faith issue? Look at Christ. If we are not so sure of the “real Jesus” of history, we still have the tradition of faith. Christians over centuries have preached about Jesus as Christ. Christians over centuries have transmitted the message of Jesus-Christ. So there is no need to look for the “real Jesus” of history. There is no need to do a historical research of the “Jesus-event”. We can rely on what is preached inside the Christian tradition. We can rely on what is said about Jesus Christ and we can rely on the message that is associated with Jesus Christ. Even if we cannot be sure of the “real Jesus” of history and even if we cannot know exactly what happened in the “Jesus event”, we do not have to worry. The historical reality is not important. What is important is the message and lesson we get from our Christian preaching. Our lives improve if we look at the things taught to us in Christianity. Our lives are improved if we apply the styles and ways presented in the stories about Jesus. So, leave behind the worry about the “real Jesus” of history. Live according to the lessons we learn.
11. What do we notice at this point of time? Well, we see the tendency to emphasize the “Christ” without the Jesus. The Jesus-of-history is not pertinent. What is important is the Christ of faith and the message of this Christ. So a gap is made more firm between history and faith. Live in faith even if outside links with history.
History of Christology Part Two
1. There is a tendency to say that theology and studies about the faith must be solid and should not mix with the sciences like history. The sciences might make the theology weak. So the preference is to make solid studies of things like dogmatic theology. The study of the Bible should not be influenced by the sciences. Spirituality should be solid and not make use of science.
2. This looks ok, but it fails to recognize a basic fact about our Christian faith. Christianity is inscribed within history. It is not just a religion of wise ideas and moral norms. It is not just a product of human culture. The Christian faith is rooted in actual history—what really happened in a particular place and in a particular time: the Jesus-event. So if the Jesus-event really happened, then it is bound to be in the same human conditions are we are in. In principle, therefore, it is also open to the sciences. History, anthropology, sociology, psychology, etc. have a place in the study of our Christian faith. Theology and the Christian faith, in general, does not necessarily have to close itself from the sciences. For our Christology class, we say that the historical science need not be excluded from the study about Christ.
3. This is a challenge to us, actually. We may be doing so many practices in Christianity—and we wonder if we are really doing something purely cultural or doing something rooted in the Jesus-event. We have practices that characterize our lives, and we might want to ask: are these practices really from Jesus Christ or are they simply the creative products of culture? Could it be that they are results of speculations and intuitions of some spiritually inclined people who, however, are far from the real historical Jesus. Of course there is nothing intrinsically wrong with culture. But culture changes…culture is a human activity. We also know that some cultural practices are designed to promote the status of some social groups—like the elites of society. So we might ask if we are doing religious practices that sustain simply a social status!
4. Today we find many attempts to look for the historical Jesus. There is the “document” work, the “textual” work, “linguistic”, “semiotics”, “historical criticism”, etc. We will try to look at these in an other time. For the moment we can ask: what motivated these moves to look for the historical Jesus?
5. So we said that there was a tendency to remove the historical Jesus. Ok, it is true that it is very hard to find out exactly what happened in history. But this does not mean that it is impossible. Yes, the gospel texts are marked by faith assertions. But what led the gospel writers to write about the history of Jesus even if they wrote it in terms of faith?
6. Some theologians started asking this question. Why did the gospel writers go back to the story of the life of Jesus? Why not just make a confession of faith? What could have motivated the gospel authors to write their texts? The answer is simple: a historical event motivated the writing of the gospels. Before even preaching about Jesus and before even making faith affirmations there was the historical encounter with Jesus. The “real Jesus” of history—the Jesus-event—was the motivation for faith and the motivation for expressing in terms of faith. Before faith was developed and before the early Christians expressed their faith there was the encounter with the man Jesus—a true historical man. The confession of faith—and the writing of the gospels—were responses to the experience of having encountered Jesus.
7. So the consequence is this: the gospels do not prohibit us from studying the historical Jesus. In fact, the gospels were really attempts of the early Christians to resist making Jesus a myth. They are proofs that a historical encounter happened and it was such a powerful experience that gospel writers had to mention the experience but in the language of faith. The gospel stories prove that faith begins with a historical encounter. The fact that they are written as story-telling of what happened is proof that a real historical event—the Jesus-event—really happened.
8. So when we look at the gospels, even if we read texts of faith, we can discern the historical content underneath. Through the gospels we can have access to the historical Jesus. The gospels are like windows opening and allowing us to view the “real Jesus” of history.
9. Because of this insight, new reflections started to emerge. Among protestant theologians, it was agreed that discourse about Jesus must be founded and grounded in history. God revealed himself in the man Jesus. God revealed in history. So the Christian faith should not take a distance from history. If we talk about things like “miracles” and the “resurrection”, we can do it with historical truth. The Christian message is the real message of the real man, Jesus.
10. Faith and reason, faith and history, are not separated. Faith needs a historical base. Catholic theologians accept this too. For Catholic theologians, history and faith come together. Our affirmations of faith should not contradict the historical reality of Jesus. Our faith cannot be imaginary and cannot be a mere creative product of humans. Between the historical Jesus and our faith affirmation there is no break. We must discern the historical Jesus through our faith.
11. Jesus of Nazareth is Christ, Lord and Saviour. Christ is this man Jesus. We look at Christ and we say he is Jesus. We look at Jesus and we see that he is the man confirmed by faith—he is Christ. Faith makes us look back at its historical content. The historical content makes sense in the light of faith. There is a “circle” between them. We decide in faith with a constant return to history.
Searching for the Historical Jesus
1. Christianity is rooted in history. We say that whatever is from God is not in an imagination. Christianity sees God as having historically engaged—in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is a historical person for the Christian.
2. Archaeology is one branch of science that helps us see the historical world during the time of Jesus. But who exactly is Jesus? What was in his thoughts, in his way of living, in his understanding about himself? Archaeology cannot help with these questions.
3. We can look at documents. There are non-Christian documents. These are not plenty. Once a “Pilate Stone” was discovered with the name of Pontius Pilate in it. This stone is a block (82 cm x 65 cm) of limestone with a carved inscription. It reads: “To the Divine Augusti Tiberieum ...Pontius Pilate...prefect of Judea...has dedicated [this]”. This is proof that Julius Caesar was a true historical man.
4. There is another Roman document from a historian named Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56 – AD 117). He was a historian (and senator) of the Roman Empire. He wrote one book, Annals. In this book (15/44), written at around 116 AD, Christ and Pontius Pilate are mentioned. There was a mass execution of Christians. Tacitus wrote: “…Nero …inflicted the most exquisite tortures on…Christians by the populace. Christus…suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus….”
5. There was a Roman historian named Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. He is more known simply as Suetonius (ca. 69/75 – after 130). He was historian and a good horse-rider. He wrote a book Life of Claudius (25/4) and there he wrote about the emperor Nero expelling Jews from Rome: "As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome." Suetonius spelled Christ as “Chrestus”.
6. And then there was another Roman historian named Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (61 AD – ca. 112 AD). He is better known as “Pliny the Younger”. He was a historian and lawyer. Why was he called “the younger”? Well, someone was older: Pliny's uncle was “Pliny the Elder” who helped raise and educate him. Pliny the Younger wrote, in around 110AD, about Christians: “They were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god….” (Epistulae X.96)
7. The Jews themselves had their own historians, one of which was Flavius Josephus. He wrote a text sometime in the 90-95, also very close to the time of Jesus. In his books he mentioned the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Herodians. He mentioned Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate, John the Baptist, and of course Jesus. He mentioned “James the brother of Jesus”. He even mentioned the “Essenes” of the Qumran community. In his book Antiquities (20.200), he said that in AD 62, the high priest Ananus (or Ananias) had assembled “…the Sanhedrin. He had brought before them the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, who was called James, and some other men, whom he accused of having broken the law, and handed them over to be stoned”. See, he mentioned Jesus Christ.
8. There are a few other documents referring to the time of Jesus and the people around Jesus, but those texts were written already in the 10th century. Historians find them important for the historical studies about Jesus, but we need not mention them here.
9. Let us conclude: From the non-Christian documentary point of view, there are evidence of the historical truth about Jesus Christ. But these non-Christian documents only mention Christ. They do not give more information than that. The best documents we have about Jesus Christ is the New Testament, and in particular the gospels.
10. Experts note that the oral Aramaic at times found its way in the Greek writing. When gospel authors recall the words of Jesus, they would write in Greek but with the Aramaic turns of Jesus. So, this tells us how historically “near” the gospel texts are to the man himself, Jesus.
11. Let us not forget that the gospel accounts were written for the communities of the evangelists. Mark had his community to write too, Matthew, Luke and John had their own communities. So when the gospel authors were writing, they had in mind the context and the needs of their communities. They organized their text according to those needs. This explains why they are versions of the same event—the Jesus event. In our synoptic class we spoke about “the Jesus for Mark”, “the Jesus for Matthew”, “the Jesus for Luke”. It is not that there were three Jesus, but it was that they showed profiles—versions—of Jesus.
12. The gospel texts were primarily confessions of faith. They were expressing the faith of the authors and the communities. So, in a way, it would be difficult to see them as “historical texts”. The authors did not write the Jesus-history like modern
historians. They wrote with the influence of faith. In fact, they wrote to promote and support the faith. So we cannot—and should not—read the texts as historical texts in the modern style. But through them we can discern the historical Jesus.
13. Jesus had such an impact on the lives and minds of people. So when people shared their faith in Jesus, they also kept memory of his presence. Through the faith colour of the texts we therefore can see how people—the early Christians—had historical memory of Jesus. We can see the impact Jesus had on their lives—and the impact was so powerful that it left a mark on the written texts.
14. The gospel texts, therefore, cannot be considered purely “non-historical”. No. In and through them the memories of the early Christians were stamped.
15. Do not forget that in the early times—a little before the resurrection of Jesus—the early Christians believed in the presence of Jesus. Jesus had risen from the dead and although he was not visible he was still present. How? There was the belief in the Spirit. But then also, through the apostles and through St. Paul, the words and gestures of Jesus were still present. The activity of the Apostles, including St. Paul was preaching or proclaiming about Jesus: kerygma. There was still a strong sense of the presence of Jesus among the communities through those preaching. In fact whenever the early Christians would make major decisions, they would call for the inspiration of the Spirit and ask what would Jesus do in their situations.
16. People kept memory of Jesus. They recalled the Passion and death as a Prelude to the Resurrection. The risen Lord suffered and died…and then rose again. So it was one big story: Passion-Death-Resurrection. It was a story of someone present in their lives.
17. But then over time the Apostles started to die. Those who actually saw Jesus were also dying. Memory had to shift. Suddenly, the early Christians began to realize that they were having a memory of the “past”. The kerygma had to be supplemented by didache, or “teaching”. It was then from proclaiming to teaching and giving lessons. In the time of preaching there was a strong sense of Christ being present among the communities. When the time of didache came, it became important to make that sense of presence felt and accepted. This time, it was no longer the words and gestures of the Apostles that made Jesus present. It was the time of the gospel texts. They had the role of making Jesus actual in the lives of the communities.
18. The communities needed a “foundation story”—the Jesus-event story. The words and deeds of Jesus were recorded so that the early communities could have reference and make Jesus actual in their lives. So the gospel texts were marked by a memory of the historical Jesus actualized in the faith of the people.
19. The Jesus that the gospels were referring to was living sometime in the 1st century Palestine. There is a large agreement among experts that Jesus died under Pontius Pilate. It was perhaps in the year 30…and some would specify the date as April 7,30. This is still a matter of verification, as experts are still working out the dates. Jesus became known, and therefore started his ministry, at around the 15th year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Caesar Tiberius. As for the date of the birth of Jesus, a lot of researches are still on going. There are indications that Jesus was born a little before the death of Herod the Great.
20. Let us leave the debate on details to the experts. Let our data be enough for us. The experts read the Gospel texts and try to make dates comparing with the historical dates outside the Bible. It is a technical job. One thing is for sure: Jesus was a historical man. He lived and died at the time of Pontius Pilate, at the time of Herod Antipas, and at the time of the Baptists—the Pharisees, Saducees, Zealots, Essenes etc. In other words, Jesus really lived in the 1st century Palestine.
Jesus and Judaism: Part One
A society splintered in groups
1. We know about ritual cleansing—it is found in many religions. In such a practice we note the attempt to move from a profane to a sacred realm. By washing ritually one is “purified”. One can go and approach the deity or the divinity—one can go to sacred space. So ritual cleaning allows access to the sacred. Of course it is the deity or the divine being who fixes the domain of the sacred. But the human being needs the ritual to enter that domain.
2. In Judaism this was very important. To refuse going through ritual cleansing was a big error. To refuse would mean one can go to God on one’s own powers. But in the ritual there were rules that presupposed God’s initiative. So to refuse doing the ritual would mean refusing also what God wanted.
3. Now when we speak of rituals, we need to focus especially on Temple worship. Priests had to ritually clean themselves to enter the sacred domain (2Ch.4/2-6; see Lv.16/24-26). We also note that there was the obligation for the impure to pass through rituals before joining the community, such as the lepers who must be purified (Lv.14/8-9). If one touched a dead body—as in the case of a doctor—one also needed to do rituals before joining society (Lv.22/4-7).
4. So when there was ritual cleansing it would imply “being purified” (see Isa.1/16). In the Psalms we read about “purify me with hyssop” (Ps.51/9). Then there was the idea of purifying the whole of Jerusalem when living water will flow in it (Za.13/1) and when the Lord God will let pure water flow “and you will be purified” (Ez.36/25). This would imply that the people of Jerusalem will be living in the sacred domain of God.
5. Now, sometime around the time of Jesus, ritual purity was so dominant in the lives of the people. People were so much looking for liberation and salvation, many groups emerged. They had many different rituals. Archaeology would show that during that time many water “pools” were constructed especially to help in the rituals of purification.
6. So many rituals were prescribed by the groups. The groups had improvised different sorts of rituals. One group that interests us was the group of Pharisees. They were interested in letting people have the same rituals preserved only for priests. They would say that everyone belonged to God—and not just the priests. So everyone had to have the same rituals as that of the priests. So that would mean having a lot of rituals in people’s daily life. If, for example, in the Temple the objects used for sacrifices had to be purified by priests, then even the daily objects of daily life—like the bowl during meals—will have to be ritually purified too.
7. In other words, there was a growing obsession for rituals everywhere. People had to be vigilant. Now, this had serious effects in society. The many rituals created a compartmentalization of society. People were classified according to the “pure” and “impure”. The “pure” were separated from the “impure”. In other words, there were people who were able to apply the rules of rituals…and there were people who could not.
8. The Pharisees (from the word perushim or “to separate”) were able to follow all the requirements of ritual purification in all details. They became a special group in society. And who would have a difficult time in rituals?
Think of the medical doctors who touched regularly the sick and the dead. Think of those who worked butchering animals and selling meat…they touched dead bodies. Think of people who went into contact with foreigners—like doing business with them…they were in touch with pagans. Think of shepherds who had to bring their flocks to many places, some of which were foreign soils. Think of tax collectors for Rome…they were in touch with the imperialists. Think of prostitutes. Think of women with regular menstruations. Now all these people were regularly impure. They were in touch with pagan things or with dead things.
9. The motivation of the Pharisees was ok, right? They wanted the priestly affairs shared with the whole of society. But the consequence of their movement was to create a society of different levels of pure and impure. Some people were “more pure” than others—depending on how far they would apply the rituals in their daily lives. Society was so splintered at that time.
10. Judaism was a religion of salvation for all. But what happened was the many people felt that because of their failure to follow the prescribed rituals, they were far from the salvation offered by God. So a movement emerged to respond to this problem.
11. There was therefore the Baptist movement. The group was composed of very ordinary people and the group announced the coming of God’s judgement. So people had to convert from sin. It was, by the way, in the mentality of the time. The Baptist movement had its ritual. It was a ritual accessible to all and it was concerned with the forgiveness of sins. It was a ritual of forgiveness.
12. The Pharisees did not recognize the validity of the ritual of the Baptists. The ritual of the Baptists was marked by immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins. So it was quite different—it was not about purification and access to God. (It will require lots of time to indicate the historical sources, and it is not our focus here. What we can state is that there were many Baptist groups. The Baptist movement was not a unified one. Some experts would even ask if the movement was originally Palestinian. But again, we cannot go into this discussion.)
13. We mentioned the works of Flavius Josephus. Well, in one of his works he wrote about John the Baptist. Let us cite a passage from his Jewish Antiquities (18/2):
Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, [for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,] thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure to him.
14. Take note of two important elements. Keep them in mind; they will say a lot about Jesus too.
· One is that of Baptism. People went to John the Baptist for immersion in water for purifying the body and for remission of sins.
· Second was the influence John the Baptist had. He was so influential that Herod got scared of him…and put him to death. By killing him Herod could avoid the rebellion—or “mischief”—of John’s followers.
Jesus and the Baptist
15. Now we can put Jesus in the picture. Was Jesus part of the Baptist group? We might say yes—given our knowledge of the gospels. We know that Jesus was so close to John the Baptist. But let us try to be exact with this.
16. Now we can try associating Jesus with John…and then later note the differences. Why is it important to see the link of Jesus with John? We will have to see the influence of the Baptist movement on Jesus. As we will see, the influence was so strong.
17. Let us check out John the Baptist. He is pictured by the gospels as ascetic and staying in the desert (see Mt.11/7). Curiously, John was baptising in the desert valley of the river Jordan and at that time the river was considered by many as impure. And which part of the valley was John found? He could be found beyond the river—in Transjordan (see Jn.1/28) and…here is the surprising part…he would also be in Aenon near Salim (see Jn.3/23). Both places were pagan places. Transjordan was pagan territory. Aenon was in Samaritan country.
18. Historians note that among Baptists there were Samaritans. It was highly probable that John the Baptist was linked with such people from Samaria.
Just think about this. The Samaritans were not considered as “pure” Jews. They were not highly regarded, at that time. The Samaritans did not have anything to do with the Jerusalem Temple. They had their own place of worship in Gerizim. The Samaritans did not participate in the reconstruction of the Jerusalem Temple. They did not want the re-unification of the Jewish nation after the Babylonian exile. The Jews had so much bitterness against the Samaritans. But curiously, the first mission of the early Church outside Judah was in Samaria. Curiously also St. Stephen, before he was killed, spoke against the Jerusalem Temple and emphasized that Jacob and the Patriarchs were buried in Shechem—which was in Samaria too. There was a lot of positive things associated with Samaria and the Samaritans.
19. Consider the location of Samaria. It was a middle location between Galilee and Judah. It was a place where some Jewish people who had difficulties with their authorities would find refuge. Remember also how Jesus was very positive towards the Samaritans—and just to mention two: the parable of the “good Samaritan” and the encounter with the Samaritan woman.
20. Connect the dots. John was involved in Baptism in Samaritan country. Jesus was positive towards the Samaritans. Jesus learned something from John the Baptist—a certain respect for these people. Note also that the Baptism of John, being done in a pagan place, was so different from the rituals of the Pharisees.
21. Jesus was baptised by John. Then Jesus may have been baptising too, afterwards (see Jn.4/1-2). So Jesus may have been a follower of John. In fact, memories would associate the two strongly. When John was put to prison and killed, Jesus was thought to be John the Baptist risen again (see Mk.6/14-16)! Remember that Herod was so afraid of John that is why he had him killed. John had a strong following. Now that Jesus was present, Herod feared Jesus—with John in mind. So we understand why Herod wanted Jesus killed (see Lk.13/31).
22. So there was a very strong link: John-Jesus. But Christian tradition would also set them apart. John was remembered as a “nazorite” who did not drink wine (Lk.1/15). He spent his time in the desert, and he wore rough clothing. He was very ascetic; he was “vegetarian” (locusts were, at that time, not considered as “meat”). Jesus was remembered as…well, eating like a glutton and drinking wine. Jesus was feasting! He was not in the desert but in the midst of many people—including “tax collectors and sinners” (see Mt.11/18-19; Lk.7/33-34). In a sense Jesus was going against the “approved” behaviour and may have been breaking the Law on food and drink (see Dt.21/20).
23. A highlight of the difference between Jesus and John can be seen in the record about the differences between the disciples of Jesus and the disciples of John. The disciples of Jesus did not fast like that of John (see Mk.2/18-20).
24. Jesus indeed came from the Baptist group. His way of thinking was influenced by the Baptists. But a “break” had to happen. Jesus was not called to stay in the desert. He was not an ascetic like John (and many Pharisees). Jesus was showing a different way of behaving. He was not behaving in the religious style of his time—not like John, not like the Pharisees. Jesus was, indeed, influenced by John but he had to develop something radically new and different from John’s perspective.
Excursus: Paulinian memory (if at this point our discussion is too heavy, we can skip this one)
25. Christians remembered this difference between Jesus and John. This is what we can see in the letters of Paul.
26. If we read the letters of St. Paul, we notice that there is no mention of John the Baptist. Christianity, at that point, already practised baptism…so why not mention John the Baptist? One reason is in the nature of John’s baptism itself.
The baptism of John was necessary for the remission of sins. But the early Christians at the time of Paul had to go beyond John’s Baptism and recognize that salvation was from Jesus—his death and resurrection. If Christians practised baptism, it was not the baptism in water but in Spirit—a baptism marked by Jesus. Note: the early Christians already saw the difference between John the Baptist and Jesus. They saw the difference between the baptism of John and the death-resurrection of Jesus. A distance was made away from the baptism of John. So this had its place in the writing of the gospels. John was to be the “precursor”…someone to announce Jesus.
Jesus taking from John and then moving further away
27. The Baptists had a very radical view of the message of salvation. God was concerned with everyone. This included the poor, the little ones and those who could not apply in their lives the rituals prescribed by society—and by the Pharisees in particular. Furthermore, the Baptists emphasized the conversion of the heart away from sins. The Baptist movement was open to all—it was not about making social compartments of elites and non-elites, pure and impure. It was a movement for the little ones.
28. Notice how Jesus was so marked by this. He was so close to sinners and prostitutes and other people considered “impure”. In the story of the call of Levi we see that there is an emphasis on calling the sinners and not the righteous (see Mt.2/13-17). Note how Jesus was “allergic” to the rituals of the Pharisees (see Mk.7/1 and following; Mt.23/23 and following). Jesus saw that the ritualism of his time was enclosing people. So Jesus had an open mind and heart—and it was highly probable that he was influenced by the Baptists, notably John.
29. Let us see now the “break away”. In the baptism of John, the act of immersing someone in the water was active. In other words, someone had to do it on someone else. One did not self-baptise. Baptism was done by a baptizer immersing another person in the water. This was different from the rituals of the Pharisees. The rituals were done by oneself. They were designed to separate oneself from the impure.
30. Baptism was not a separating gesture—it was unifying. A passage in the gospels show this: “So they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing and everyone is coming to him” (Jn.3/26). In baptism those who were baptized started to follow the baptiser. A discipleship was established between the baptiser and the person baptised. We can see it even in the gospel of John. Jesus was having more disciples than John as he baptized (see Jn.4/1). This form of discipleship was new at that time.
31. The rabbis also had disciples, but for them everyone revolved around the Torah. And discipleship would happen for a short while—while the disciples were studying under the rabbi. In baptism, the act of baptising had an authority linked to it. (See Mk.11/27-33). A relationship was established between the baptiser and the baptised. This explains the question asked to Jesus: “By what authority are you doing these things? Or who gave you this authority to do them?” We see the beautiful response of Jesus which, in the end had this: “Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
32. So we see also how John the Baptist was getting to be very influential. He was establishing discipleship among people—so much so that Herod got scared of him. John was talking about the coming of God’s reign, the moment of judgement was coming soon. So the followers of John might have been quite excited too. Now, was Jesus just like the other disciples of John?
33. In the memory of the early Christians—as recorded by the gospels—the very strong statements of John the Baptist would fizzle out. Jesus must have expressed something radically different. This time, with Jesus, it would no longer be the baptism of John that was central. One passage can explain this well. “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mk.10/38). Jesus was proposing a different form of baptism—very much unlike the baptism of John.
34. Here is the important point: It is no longer the gesture of baptism that saves but the person of Jesus. The baptism of Jesus is that of suffering and dying just as Jesus. It is now the very person of Jesus that is central. This is why the gospel writers slowly fizzled John out and made him a “precursor”. The baptism of John had to give way to the baptism of Jesus—the “Paschal” baptism.
Of historical interest
35. The Baptist movement declared the coming of God’s reign. People were getting excited. Authorities were getting jittery. A new hope was on the rise: will Israel find its salvation coming? Many things were being put to question. So we see why authorities would turn their anger against people like John the Baptist and Jesus.
Look at what happened to Jesus. He was designated by the title on the cross: “Jesus the Nazarean, king of the Jews (Jn.19/19). But what did “Nazarean” mean? It was connected with the resistance against the Temple and the Law (see Act.6/14; 23/28; 24/5-6). Mark would record that an accusation against Jesus had something to do with the Temple (see Mk.14/58). Jesus may have been part of this whole atmosphere of “new things” coming up, and “new things” (questioning tradition) but that will establish a final judgement and solution to the woes of Israel.
36. John the Baptist was killed sometime in the year 28. In the year 30, Jesus was killed. In the year 35 a movement of Samaritans was destroyed by Pontius Pilate. At around the same time, Stephen will be martyred. A little after, the Jerusalem community will be destroyed by the Romans. With all these events, it can be highly probable that the Baptist movement had a role. Jesus, as part of the movement for a certain time must have been implicated in the same context.
Inspired by Charles Perrot, Jésus et l’Histoire
Jesus the Temple
1. We might think that Judaism in the time of Jesus was so “low” as to be obsessed with rituals. No, it had a certain level of sophistication and complexity too. Also let us be careful in thinking that Jesus was totally against the Pharisees. No. In fact he was also near some Pharisees. He showed signs of being like the Pharisees too. The fact is, also, Jesus was really very faithful to many Jewish practices of his time…just like many other Jews, including Pharisees. Jesus was a man of his time—the 1st century Palestine.
2. Now, let us see how close he was to Pharisees. Who were the Pharisees?
3. The group was born sometime in 150 B.C. It was a movement—a group—united to keep well the faith of Israel that was being threatened by the Greek culture. The name “Pharisee” is said to have the root word paras which means “to separate” or “to explain”. We have seen the idea of “separation” in our previous discussion. But what about “to explain”? Well, the Pharisees were “separated from” others because of their practices and also because of their studies and explanations of the Jewish tradition.
4. Maybe we have a very negative view of the Pharisees. But historically Jesus may have been close to them in some ways too. Historically too, after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70-90AD, the Pharisees became leaders of the Jews. The Pharisees expelled the Christians from their participation in Jewish practices, like assembling in the synagogues. So it is probable that the writings about them in the New Testament are quite negative. In other words, the experiences of Pharisees the years 70-90AD were applied backwards to the time of Jesus.
5. So let us not be too quick in saying that they were hypocrites and had a bad reputation for Jesus. No. Most Pharisees were simple workers, some were peasants and farmers, some were business people. There were also priests among them. They gave a lot of importance to the tradition of their ancestors—the tradition of their fathers. They believed in life after death. The Pharisees believed in angels and holy messengers—they believed that God could communicate to people. They believed that although God was guiding the world with his plan, God gave the human being freedom too. (See Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews 2). Note how Jesus seemed to have been like them (see Mk.12/18-27).
6. The Pharisees were filled with religious passion. They lived simple lives and they did not have a delight for wealth. For anyone who really wanted to follow God’s ways, wealth was a possible obstacle. Look at Jesus and notice how we was much like the Pharisees (see Mt23 and Lk11/39 and following).
7. The Pharisees took the Torah seriously and felt that it was relevant for daily life. They took the Torah seriously and internalized it in their lives. As we saw in our previous discussion, the Pharisees wanted to have the Temple practices reach out to ordinary people too. In a sense the Pharisees were “reforming” the tradition.
8. The Pharisees were trying to make the Temple life attractive to the people. They wanted the Temple practices become part of the lives of people. So they proposed changes in the Jewish calendar to coordinate liturgy of the Temple with daily life. They were trying to tie up and adapt spiritual Temple life and spiritual daily life. They wanted reforms in the Law and practices.
9. Take note of one Pharisee named Hillel: “…a certain pagan went before Hillel. Hillel said to him, 'What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.'” (http://www.come-and-hear.com/shabbath/shabbath_31.html).
10. The Pharisee Hillel emphasized that “do not do to others what you do not want others to do to you”. This was the whole Torah. Everything else was just commentary. The Torah had a core meaning, so there was no need for all the other smaller details. This was a radical stand. It was in a sense also critical of the way the Torah was lived. The heart of the Law is love of neighbor.
11. Notice then the attitude of reforming. Maybe we can even say that the Pharisees were trying to “deepen” the meaning of tradition.
12. Look at Jesus. Notice how he could be very similar to the Pharisee’s way of thinking. See Lk.10/25-28. See Mk 12/32-33. So was Jesus like the Pharisees? Was he like them trying to reform the tradition and trying to adapt the tradition closer to the lives of people? Let us explore this angle.
13. Solomon is recorded to be the King who started building the Temple. The Temple was to be the place where God would dwell on earth. The Temple had rich symbolism. It was like “house”—house of the Lord God. But it also served as a central point for the Jews. It symbolized protection and safe living. It was the place to create links with God—and with others. People who accepted the Covenant with the Lord God met together in the Temple.
14. In 587 the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. During the exile the Jews dreamt of rebuilding that Temple. (In Egypt, Jews who went there on exile built their own temple in Egypt, in a place called Elephantine.) Returning from the Babylon exile, the Jews reconstructed Jerusalem and the Temple. The Persian King Cyrus allowed (and even helped finance) the reconstruction.
15. In the time of Jesus Herod the Great added parts to the Temple. It was a big work then. Herod appointed his own priests. The priests, allies of Herod, would do their best to make Herod look “ok”. Herod had pagan blood and he showed favor to the Greek culture. Hence pious people criticized him. Priests would try put a different picture and make Herod look more “attractive”.
16. Herod’s constructions were partly motivated to honor the Roman emperor. This did not look good to the pious people. So to please the Jews he made restorations of the Temple.
17. He had a palace made for himself. He made a strong fort protecting the Temple. He re-fortified palaces. He had new cities built. Imagine how this would tax the people.
18. We may find it important to note that there were points of views made about Temple…even before the time of Jesus. The views did not give central importance to the Temple. During the Babylonian exile the Jews were far from Judah and the Temple. So a theology was made among many of them saying that the true honor one can give to God was not by gifts and sacrifices but by purity of the heart. The sacrifices agreeable to God were not the bloody animal sacrifices but an interior spiritual sacrifice. The real “house of God” would be the soul within.
19. Of course the Jews continued to centralize their religious practices around the Temple. They would still be vigilant about cult practices. But in certain sectors there were already critical. There was mention of vain constructions of dumb stones wet with bloody sacrifices (see the Sybillian Oracle, 4).
20. It is worth mentioning the role of Herod the Great. He put additions to the Temple. Not only did he put additions to the Temple, he also had his residence enlarged and elaborated. Herod the Great was considered pagan—having an Idumean blood. A lot of criticism against the Temple was made against the constructions of Herod. The idea of most criticisms was that the Temple had to be purified. It was dirty. It had pagan touches to it. So the Temple itself—as an institution of spiritual practices—was not questioned. What was needed was the purification of the Temple. Yes, there were some questions about the animal sacrifices. There were debates. But if it was required by the Torah, then it can continue. However there were those who wanted a more spiritual approach—not the bloody sacrifices.
21. So there was a mixture of feelings towards the Temple. (Look at Mk.12/33—which is an indication of debate.) Persons of the Pharisee movement were really wanting a more spiritual and interior practice. One thing is for sure: the animal sacrifices continued.
22. What about the Baptists? They really put to question the Temple. There are outside-the-Bible references showing the attitude of Baptists. They wanted and end to the animal sacrifices. They saw the Temple as really dirty.
23. Notice how the Temple has no place in the Letters of St. Paul. In 1Cor.10/18, there is mention of Israel “in the flesh”. That was the Israel of the past. But now, for Paul, the Temple had no more importance. The true Temple was not the Temple in stone but the new community (1Cor.3/16-17).
24. In John (4th gospel) the Temple’s fall is announced early (Jn.2/13-22). The synoptics seem to be more critical. See for example Mk.14/58; Lk.1/5 and following; Lk.24/53. (Do not forget that Luke wrote the Acts, so look at Act.7/41-50.) See Mk.13. Etc.
25. If this was the case in Paul and the gospels, we can now ask what might have Jesus done to influence these authors to say these? One indication can be found in Mk.11, the story of the “purification of the Temple”.
26. The title “purification” would not be sufficient to show the impact Jesus did there. Remember that after that event the priests would question the authority of Jesus. Notice how Jesus answered. He appealed to the authority of John the Baptist! (This should not surprise us by now.)
27. Let us go to verses earlier. As Jesus chased away the sellers, what did he next do? Let us quote the verse: “He did not permit anyone to carry anything through the temple area” (Mk.11/16). Historians find this curious.
28. v16: The Greek says "vessels". He did not permit anyone to carry “vessels”. These are the sacrificial equipment of the Temple. This story has a parallel in 2 Maccabees. There the story is told of the high priest Onias III. In 2 Macc 4:32-4 Onias attempts to prevent Menelaus from stealing vessels from the Temple. Later Onias is killed after being tricked into leaving his sanctuary near Antioch. After his death, in 2 Macc 15:11-16, he visits the Jewish leader Judas Maccabeaus in a dream. He saved the Temple vessels from being plundered. Vessels were Temple vessels used for cult sacrifices.
29. Let us take from Non-Biblical Literature. There is the Mishnah or Mishna which has parts or divisions. The Mishnah Berchot is one of the divisions. Mishnah Berachot 9/5 mentiones:
Man must not be light with his head (frivolous) near the eastern gate;
It is near the foundation of the house of the holy of holies.
One may not enter the holy mount with his staff,
Or with his sandal, or with his belt-pouch, or with dust on his feet,
And do not make a shortcut,
And spitting is forbidden, as deduced from lesser to greater.
All that ended the blessings when they were in the Temple would say, “From the world.”
30. Take note of what the Mishna says: do not make a shortcut in the Temple.
31. These two references—which we cite in length, sorry about that—tell us a lot about what Jesus did in the Temple. Jesus prohibited the movement of the “vessels” to the Temple. In other words, he stopped the whole Temple practices at that moment. Imagine what that could have meant to the priests of the Temple! Jesus stopped their “business”! It was one occasion that triggered the desire to kill Jesus.
32. Look at the attitude of Jesus regarding the Temple. It was a dried fig for him (see Mk.11/12-14.20-26). It will fall and no stone will stand to remain (Mk13/2). This was against the ears of the very pious Jews. (Already at that time there was one like Jesus, Jesus Ben Ananias.) To go into conflict with the Temple also implied putting some people “unemployed”.
33. When Jesus spoke negatively of the Temple, he spoke of the end of time. See Mk.13. The Temple, he said, will be “profaned”; it will be made dirty. The profanation will not be followed by a restoration or purification. Rather, it will be followed by the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus was speaking blasphemy here.
34. “And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds” (Mk.13/26). This awakened the text of Daniel (9/27 and 7/13). For Jesus the Temple had no more future. What he said recalled something of what happened to the Temple during the Greek times when “… the king erected the desolating abomination—a pagan god—upon the altar of burnt offerings” (1Mac.1/54). When the abomination was put there in the Temple, all Temple sacrifices were ended. In Daniel this profanation will be followed by the coming of the “Son of Man”.
35. Do you see what Jesus was provoking? He was awakening history—the history of the time when the Temple was profaned by the Greeks. He also awakened the notion of the coming Son of Man after the profanation. The words then blasphemed…The Temple will end, there will be profanation, then the Son of Man will come. No more Temple, yet profanation will happen. Who can accept that?
36. Look at Mk.1/40-45. Notice that Jesus declared the leper healed and clean—it was an act that only priests can do. Only priests had the right to declare who was clean. Yet Jesus sent the man to the priests. Why? “That will be proof for them” (Mk.1/44). The leper will show himself to the priests and show to the priests that Jesus had purified him! Was this not a strong statement of Jesus?
37. The leper was healed and purified by Jesus. But he still needed to re-integrate in society—a society that was so marked by the sense of “purity” and “impurity”. For Jesus he was already part of society. Jesus had a different view, unlike that of the traditional in his time.
38. Look at Mtt.17/24-27. Who do not pay taxes? The “subjects”. So Jesus said that the disciples were free from paying taxes to the Temple. But wait…priests did not pay taxes too. They were exempted. So why should priests enforce taxes when they themselves were exempted? Jesus was breaking a tradition—he did not see why he and his disciples had to pay. (But so as not to scandalize, he let Peter pay nonetheless).
39. Look at the attitude of Jesus in front of the Temple and the priests…see how free he was.
Inspired by Charles Perrot, Jέsus et l’Histoire
Jesus and the Law
1. Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and the laws given by Moses. This is what we read in the Acts (6/14). This was a serious accusation. Nobody should challenge the tradition. Remember Paul before he was converted. He had such a passion for the Jewish tradition (see Ga.1/14). He saw that the Christians were breaking that tradition. So the Law—the Torah—must have been such an important part of Jewish life. Jesus was perceived to have challenged it!
2. We need to understand that for many Jews the Law was important because it was a connection between the manifestation of God and the response of people. The Law was given in the frame of Covenant. It was designed for making social life more human and just. Jesus knew this. This is why in many instance he seems to have accepted the Law (see Mt.5/15).
3. Jesus was a good Jew. He followed the Law. He followed the regulations. He could not have been so antagonistic towards the Law. Yet why was there this perception that he challenged the tradition and the Law?
4. Jesus, in the Matthew point of view, was a Master—a kind of Rabbi—a teacher (see Mt.28/19-20). Jesus was like Moses, for Matthew—and so he put Jesus on the Mount. But for Matthew Jesus was more than Moses. Jesus was the new Law. There must have been something in Jesus that awakened this point of view.
5. Historically there were different groups that were already critical of tradition. Judaism of the 1st century was quite complex. Let us mention one indication.
“At that time did he give him commandment concerning the fringes: and then did Choreb rebel and 200 men with him and spake saying: What if a law which we cannot bear is ordained for us?” (Biblical Antiquities of Philo 16/1).
6. Notice there is mention of the “fringes” prescribed by the Law. The rebels of Choreb refused to accept wearing it.
7. Let us take one more illustration:
“…And he asked the forsaken of the tribe of Benjamin, which said: We desired at this time to examine the book of the law, whether God had plainly written that which was therein, or whether Moses had taught it of himself” (Biblical Antiquities of Philo 25/13).
8. Here there is mention of the tribe of Benjamin accused of questioning the Law…did it really come from God or just from Moses?
9. So the main question about the Law was its divine origin. Could it be simply a work of Moses on his own? How sure is it that God prescribed the Law? Already in the New Testament epistles we have indications of this issue (see Gal.3/19; He.2/2; see Act.7/38 and 53).
Remember the question of divorce in Mk.10/1-12? Watch how Jesus responded to the Pharisees. V.2 the question V.3 Jesus replied. He referred to the tradition of Moses. Why? V. 4 So this is what tradition says V.5 What is surprising in this reply? What was Jesus assuming about himself here—what did he “know”? V.6 Note the word “but”. Again, what was Jesus assuming about himself here? He seemed to “know” something. VV. 5 (6-9) Compare the verses. On one hand there is something about Moses, and on the other hand there is something about God. How are they related? V.10 Now the disciples ask Jesus. V.11 Jesus states a “law”. From where does it come from? (Jesus seemed to express the true will of God and even dared to oppose the Mosaic law and tradition! Jesus was taking an authority unto himself!)
10. Jesus seemed to have shown that he knew what was in God’s mind, and he knew what was in the mind of Moses! He can say which was more valid! This, of course, triggered the religious authorities of his time: they will feel “insecure”.
11. During the time of Jesus there were already quite a number of individuals and groups opposing the religious authorities: “The right to say what is legal does not belong exclusively to the authorities”. Yet even the critics would not take authority unto themselves. They would still refer to other authorities—Rabbis and Scribes, for example. They would speak in the name of other rabbis or scribes. They were “repeaters” or “Tannaim”, from the Aramaic tanna, “one who studies”. Jewish sages of the period from c.30 B.C.–A.D. 10, Jewish scholars.
12. Jesus was original: he was seen to be someone with his own authority! See Mk 122 Mk 1/27. Jesus is not a “repeater”. Remember his trouble in the Temple? He is asked: Mk. 11/28-29 and 11/33. Jesus does not refer to someone in the past, not to any other authority. He uses scripture as illustration of what he himself wants to say. (See Jn 7/15-17)
13. Let us take another example: Jesus was original also because he spoke in the present! He showed how concrete reality was linked with God’s will. God’s design passed through him. This can be see in the question of Sabbath. Whereas many would refer to what was given as tradition in the past, Jesus stayed with what was demanded of the present. Hence, even the Sabbath did not rule over the actual reality. What was in the tradition about Sabbath?
§ 1. One great rule they [the sages] laid down respecting the Sabbath. He who has [entirely] forgotten the principle of the Sabbath, and has done many kinds of work on many Sabbath-days, is bound to bring but one sin-offering. He who knows the principle of the Sabbath, but, [mistaking the day], has done many kinds of work on many Sabbath-days, is bound to bring a separate sin-offering for every Sabbath-day [which he has violated]. He who knows that it is Sabbath, and has [nevertheless] done many kinds of work on many Sabbath-days, is bound to bring a separate sin-offering for every principal occupation. He who has done divers work, all arising from the same principal occupation, is bound to bring but one sin-offering. (From Mishna Sabbath 7/1)
14. “And I say to you”: Jesus rectified tradition. In the Sermon of the Mount of Matt., we read Jesus saying regularly: “And I say to you”. He opposed this from tradition. “You have in the tradition” but now “I say to you”. No more intermediaries, no more need to go to some other authority or tradition. Jesus showed freedom from the Temple, from the Law, from the authorities, etc. When he said “I say to you”, from hereon Jesus became the tradition, the authority, the guide.
15. Now we read Mark 14: 55: “The chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none”. What were the accusations? One was that Jesus will destroy the Temple. For Jesus the Temple was only made with human hands, and so Jesus will build another Temple not made with human hands.
16. Then the high priest asked Jesus if he was the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One? What reply did Jesus give? "I am; and 'you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,' and 'coming with the clouds of heaven.'" (Mk. 14/63). At that point it was clear to the authorities: Jesus had to be killed.
17. Jesus had the courage to question what many took for granted. Jesus also assumed an authority that many others could not accept and recognize.
Inspired by Charles Perrot, Jέsus et l’Histoire
THE START OF CHRISTOLOGY
1. “God made him Lord and Christ, this Jesus who you crucified” (Act.2/36). This is the expression of faith of the disciples of Jesus. This is the expression of faith of the early Christians.
2. It is actually a “from below” faith expression. Why “from below”? It starts with the concrete experiences with Jesus. The disciples met Jesus—a man of 1st century Palestine. The disciples claim to have seen him risen from the dead. So when the disciples made their confession of faith, they were bringing with them all that they have experienced from encountering the human Jesus. They started “from below”.
3. The person who the disciples say was resurrected was the very same person who walked with them, lived with them in Galilee, Nazareth, Jerusalem. It was the very same man who lived and was later crucified.
4. In the Acts, Peter makes the statement about Jesus. Peter himself knew Jesus, he was close to Jesus. He knew Jesus in concrete life. Peter passed through time with Jesus…and later made his confession of faith. It was not in a flash that faith happened. Rather it was through time. The gospel stories show this to us. The stories in the gospels show the development of faith. Through time Jesus was making himself known to the disciples—and it was also marked by certain misunderstandings. The climax of the story was in the crucifixion and faith found its definite expression after the resurrection.
5. The fact that the gospels were written in story form—or “narrative” form—shows the concern of the early Christians to express their faith in historical terms too. The gospels point that there was a historical understanding of the faith. So even if we say that the gospels are texts of faith, they are also attempts to show that the faith started and grew in historical time. Something really happened, an event really happened—the “Jesus event”. Faith passed through an encounter with the historical Jesus.
6. Now, what did Jesus say and do that made his disciples say who he was—Lord and Christ? What was in the life of Jesus that led the disciples to conclude that he was Christ and Son of God?
7. It all started with encountering him. Certain individuals accompanied Jesus…and their lives changed. Their lives took a new meaning. Jesus had an effect on them.
8. Of course there were the crowds. But those who were most especially impressed with Jesus were the disciples. The accompanied Jesus. They saw closely how Jesus lived. (Later, these same disciples will say that they saw Jesus risen from the dead).
9. So people met Jesus. The fact that Jesus gathered around him the “Twelve” is already an unquestioned historical fact. The disciples entered into company with Jesus.
10. They saw Jesus as someone just like anybody else. Like any pious Jew, Jesus prayed. Like any human person, Jesus was hungry and thirsty, happy and sad, tender and angry. Jesus was absorbed by a “life-plan” He had a mission. He was so pre-occupied by the mission, he moved with confidence that he was placing his life in the hands of God.
11. In principle, anyone could have been that way. There were also very pious and engaged Jews at that time. Many Jews were passionate about their religion. But still….there was something different with Jesus. He was a unique case. His presence raised eyebrows—and questions. “Who is this man”, many would ask. Jesus had an impact—a very particular impact.
12. His impact divided people. There were those who went hostile against him. There were those who entered in faith. Jesus was unique—and mysterious for many people.
13. Let us not forget that Jesus and his disciples lived as Jews. Their culture was very Jewish—with a strong religious tradition. It was the tradition of the belief in the Covenant with God. It was a tradition marked by the Torah and the prophets and the psalms.
14. During that time, there was also a high sense of expectation—an “apocalyptic” expectation. People in Palestine were hoping for the restoration of Israel. (People were quite fed up with the imperial powers pressuring them all the time—and the memories of the Greek times were still fresh). So for the people there was the question of who will finally free Israel and install a solid nation? This was the mental frame of the time of Jesus.
15. Jesus was in the heart of this heightened expectation. It should not be a surprise, therefore, that his own disciples were marked by this. The disciples themselves longed for a new national-political life that the Acts recorded a question they raised: “Is it now that you will restore the Kingdom of Israel?” (Act.1/6).
Before Easter: The Side of Jesus
16. From the very start of his ministry, Jesus already announced the Kingdom of God. This was not anything new. Even in the times of the prophets, the Kingdom of God was a topic. God will reign. God is King. God will rule. God will lead and liberate. It was a prophetic themes and Jesus was in the same line. But there was something different and unique in Jesus.
17. If we look closely, we will notice how the Kingdom was so linked with the person of Jesus. The presence of Jesus somehow revealed something of the Kingdom. If the Kingdom meant the Lordship of God, the manifestation of the glory of God, the saving concern of God for all—the liberation of people—then Jesus himself was a perfect witness and example of that reign and liberation. We will see more of this later.
18. Right now let us observe that Jesus was so absorbed by this preaching of the Kingdom—it was a personal work. He took it personally. This may explain why, later in history, Christians would focus more on Jesus than on the Kingdom. They saw in Jesus the Kingdom. They saw in him the liberation he was talking about. The early Christians could not separate Jesus from his message!
19. Jesus used a lot of parables to reveal the Kingdom. Parables showed the very concrete experiences of Jesus himself. He spoke, for example, of the sower. Jesus himself was preaching and sowing his message to people. He had success and failures. What he was saying fell on “good soil” and fell on “rocks and thorns”. So the parable of the sower was also about him—he was the sower! Jesus and his message could not be separated from the parables.
20. There was a kind of “authority” in the way Jesus spoke in parables. So people would say, “What is this…he is teaching something new”. “He speaks with authority not like the scribes” (Mk.1/27). Jesus not only spoke about his own experiences. His words also affected people.
21. Jesus had the reputation of someone doing good things (see Mk.7/37). He was impressive in his words, in his parables. But he was also impressive in his actions. Both his words and his actions revealed the message of the Kingdom. His words and his actions we expressive of his message. He was indeed impressive. Let us take some examples.
22. He approached publicans and sinners. He allowed them to approach him. He ate and drank with them. This was so impressive that it was a scandal to religious authorities. How can this man mix around with “dirty” people? But Jesus showed how free he was. He was not tied to the complexities of cultural biases of his time. He showed a free attitude that could only come from the message of God’s love. The arms of God were so wide open—God was willing to share with even publicans and sinners. Jesus had the message of the liberating love of God—even in your sins God comes to you.
23. Another impressive element in Jesus was his miracles. We will discuss the theme of the nature of miracles later on. It is enough for us to note here that historically Jesus had the reputation of doing extraordinary actions. Bible experts agree that the gospel stories of miracles can only be explained by the fact that Jesus must have done wondrous deeds. Jesus had the reputation of healing, for example. It was an undeniable event. Jesus did some actions that really surprised people—and the memories of those people found their way into the writing of the gospels.
24. Now, the extraordinary actions of Jesus were always linked with his message of the Kingdom. Jesus never acted wondrously without associating his gestures with the Kingdom. Both actions and Kingdom went together.
25. What was particularly impressive in his extraordinary actions? In a word we say “liberation”. In his actions Jesus showed signs of liberation—liberation from illness, liberation from psychological suffering, liberation from the hold of evil, liberation from what made people suffer. This was precisely a sign of what the Kingdom meant. In Jesus and in what he was doing, the Kingdom was present—liberation was true and real. “If by the finger of God I cast out devils, then know that the Kingdom of God is with you” (Lk.11/20).
26. In the actions of Jesus we discern something “apocalyptic”. In his actions was the opening up of a new creation. It was the opening up of a new future that was to participate in the glory of God. Sin, illness, confusion, darkness—these had not place in the future opening up.
27. Let us note then that in Jesus there was the presence of liberation. It was such a unique form of liberation associated with the Kingdom. It was a liberation starting with the people who were the least appreciated and desirable in society. Publicans and prostitutes, for example, experienced the love Jesus offered them. What is also striking is that Jesus also liberated the physically ill. His actions affected others physically too. Jesus was so concrete in his presence. (Of course at that time, these were still perceived as “signs”. We will have to wait for the final confirmation after Easter).
The Authority of Jesus: forgiving
28. In his words and actions Jesus showed a kind of “authority”. No, it was not the authority associated with “VIP” or “big-time” people. The form of authority of Jesus was different; it was unique. Let us look at this closely.
29. Jesus was known to have forgiven sins. The memories of people state that he forgave the sins of others. “Your sins are forgiven”, Jesus would often say. (There are many passages in the gospels regarding this, you can check them out. Try looking at Lk.7/36-50). The reputation—forgiving sins—was so unforgettable. Why? One reason is because it was a scandal to religious authorities. At one point, for example, scribes saw Jesus forgive sins, they said, “Who can forgive sins but God” (Mk.2/7). For the religious authorities it was a blasphemy to forgive sins. Only God could forgive sins. A man like Jesus had no right to do this. (Blasphemy, as we know, is an insult done to God, it is a sign of contempt and irreverence towards God!) Bible experts say that this reputation of Jesus cannot be historically denied. He really had the reputation—and it was to be one of the major accusations against him later. Jesus left memories in the minds of people as someone who blasphemed and scandalized religious authorities.
30. What exactly was the nature of the blasphemy? Simply put, it was the fact that Jesus was acting in the place of God. Only God forgives—and if Jesus forgave, then was he playing some kind of “God-role”? (Just think also of what effects Jesus did. To forgive a prostitute, for example, was something that another person might not want to happen. In that society at that time when some people felt they were so ritually clean and holy, it was intolerable to give proper social space for “dirty” people—like prostitutes and publicans. By placing the responsibility of forgiving on the shoulders of God, “holy” people gave themselves the chance to continue condemning and excluding “dirty” people.)
31. Let us recall the different parables of the “lost and found” in Luke 15. There is the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of “the prodigal son”. In all of these Jesus was always insisting on the forgiveness of those who are “lost” in sin. Jesus was showing that the Kingdom was a matter of forgiveness—that God himself would be forgiving. What Jesus was doing in forgiving was what God himself would be doing. For others it was a blasphemy—Jesus placed himself in the same line as that of God. What was worse, for the critics of Jesus, was that God himself was willing to mix with sinners. God was willing to feast with them. In the parable of the prodigal son we see that the father had a feast with the lost son. That was unthinkable for many people at that time. How could it be that God would stoop down in all humility to eat with sinners? But, for Jesus, this was exactly a message of liberation. God loves even the most detested member of society.
The Authority of Jesus: correcting the Law
32. Another profile in the authority of Jesus can be seen in his relationship with the Law. Let us not forget that “Law” (or Torah) meant, for the Jews, rules and regulations coming from God. The Torah was the centre of Jewish life. The Torah guided all behaviour and practices. Jesus however went beyond the Law. Look at the story of the Sermon on the Mount. There we read that Jesus would remind people of what their tradition held. “You have learnt what was said to our ancestors”. So the tradition had laws and people knew. Suddenly, Jesus would say, “…but I say to you”. Jesus showed what could go contrary to the Laws and tradition. And Jesus placed himself in the position to counter Laws and tradition by attesting, “I say to you”. Imagine the guts of Jesus. There was a whole world of tradition and Law—installed in society over many centuries. All of a sudden Jesus would counter all that by assuming his own authority: I say to you. Jesus was assuming that in himself was an authority that could counter tradition. He was correcting the Law that people believed came from God! (Imagine a classmate telling the class about his or her own version of a school rule. “You have heard the rector say that no one should wear slippers in class…but now, that is not correct. Now I say to you, start wearing slippers”.)
33. In the Jewish tradition, a teacher or rabbi would comment on a precept of the Law by referring to other rabbis and commentaries. Never would a rabbi assume a correction or commentary by referring to himself. Never. It was unthinkable that, in the time of Jesus, someone would interpret the Law by emphasizing “I say to you”. It was not “recipe” behaviour.
34. Look at how Jesus treated the divorce Law. In the Jewish culture, it was acceptable to go for divorce. Jesus disapproved! He explained why he disapproved. “Because you were hard headed”. Divorce was allowed because people were hard headed…the law as then accommodated. What did Jesus say? He said that the Law was not exactly like that. “It was not like this from the very beginning. Now I say this to you….” (Mt.19/7-9). What did Jesus do? He changed the Law—the Law that was supposedly coming from God. Jesus even showed that he knew what God really wanted—“it was not like this from the beginning”. What God really wanted was different. So Jesus was going to correct that Law: “Now I say to you”. This was scandalizing—it shocked religious leaders.
35. But Jesus was actually deepening the Law. He was showing the liberating aspects of the true Law—the will of God. Jesus, in his authority, was expressing the real intention of God to really free people from their chains. In the mind of God behind the Law, there was something more true, more authentic and more liberating. … And Jesus knew it! He had the guts to correct the Law because he knew what God really wanted. Imagine how this would strike religious authorities who followed the Torah to the smallest details!
The Authority of Jesus: “follow me”
36. Another feature of the authority of Jesus can be seen in his “guts” to call individuals to leave everything behind and follow him. Jesus called persons to follow him together with the demand of “picking up the cross”. What authority Jesus must have had. (Imagine someone in the streets of Marikina calling you, saying, “Follow me, leave everything you do and all you have…follow me….of course, pick up your cross too”.)
37. To follow Jesus meant giving up everything and to start a new path of faith centring on him. It required an implicit conversion. At that point Jesus was quite unknown, yet he was presenting a mission. The implicit conversion would lead to picking up the cross…the path was not easy. The implicit conversion required an unconditional following. What authority Jesus must have had to call people this way.
38. What did it mean to give up all? Of course, it meant dropping the nets of one’s work. It also meant preferring Jesus over one’s own family (see Mt.10/27)! It meant giving up one’s own life for the sake of Jesus and his mission (see Mt.10/39)! The demand of Jesus was so radical! Now imagine the authority of Jesus to make such a demand.
The Authority of Jesus: Intimacy with God
39. Jesus showed a very strong intimacy with God. In fact, he called God “Abba”—“daddy”. Remember that Jesus called God Abba as he was on the cross. This was unthinkable for a Jew to do. Jesus habitually called God his “daddy”—he was so intimate with God. He spoke about God as if God was his Father and he was Son. (See Mt.11/27 and Lk.10/22 for examples.)
40. Here is one verse (historically attested) that has stimulated many debates in Christology: “…of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mk.13/32). We will discuss the debates later. What we can say here is that it is an affirmation of Jesus regarding his “sonship”.
41. Look at the parable of the murderous tenants in Mt.21/33-46. Jesus here designated himself as the son of the landowner. He spoke of this parable at the time when the conflict with religious authorities was very intense already.
42. Jesus really showed an intimacy with God—and the memory got stuck in the minds of the early disciples. The whole life of Jesus showed a very unique relationship with God. Jesus called God his Father and Jesus acted as Son of his Father. In his words, actions, and prayer the intimacy with God was undeniable. Jesus lived as a Son obeying the Father in showing the Love of the Father to the people.
Jesus and he Cross
43. As the situation became worse and the mission of Jesus faced more and more resistance, the identity of Jesus became more evident. Jesus faced threats to his life—and he did not change his course. He did not back out. He did not run away to say, “Bye bye Abba, bye bye mission”. Jesus stuck to the end. He did not change his style. He knew that at one point there were people who wanted him dead.
44. Jesus stayed faithful to his path—his mission to proclaim the love of God in the Kingdom. Jesus was consistently a “man-for-others”. He ate even with the man who was to betray him—Judas Iscariot. Jesus put a seal to his life in the Last Supper. There he showed that he was a “man-for-others”. He was a man in the promotion of the Kingdom of God. He was willing to give up his life to assure that he was serious with his message. Even if religious and political leaders rejected his message, he was willing to die for it. He gave his life to show the real liberation for the world. Jesus showed what liberation meant. At the time of his agony Jesus did not refuse the “cup” which corresponded to the will of his Father: “’Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will’” (Mk.14/36).
45. He scandalized people. He showed an authority that was blasphemous. He linked himself too much with God. His authority threatened the authority of the leaders. So the consequence was the threat to his life. Up the cross (the crucifixion is undeniably historical) Jesus behaved as Son, and he called God his Abba. He proclaimed his faith and he was so certain about his Father.
The Son of Man
46. This is one theme that we come across regularly in the gospels. Jesus is identified with this. In fact, if we read the gospels, we will notice that the expression comes from the lips of Jesus. The Son of Man was an apocalyptic figure associated with the end of time. Some bible experts think that this expression may have been taken from the Book of Daniel. Let us not enter into this technical discussion. For us, it is important to note that “Son of Man” expressed “destiny”. The Son of Man will come “from above” to liberate humanity. The transformation of the world and the accomplishment of the Kingdom will happen “from above”. The Son of Man was to be someone “greater than Jonas and Solomon” (see Mt.12/41-43).
47. Jesus may have used this expression too. It may have been his way of saying who he was. (Biblical experts note that “Son of Man” had no Greek equivalent. But it had an Aramaic equivalent—and so with more chances of really coming from Jesus). Jesus saw in himself, while using the expression, as the victor for all humanity. He was indeed Son of Man.
48. Our next discussion will still touch on pre-Easter but this time from the side of the disciples. How did they interpret Jesus?
(Remember our discussions about the Temple and the Law)
Before Easter: the Side of the Disciples
1. Recall the story of the confession of faith of Peter. Jesus asked his disciples who people thought he was. Then came the question: “Who do you think I am?” (Mt.16/15) Peter came forward to answer: You are the Christ. Then Jesus authenticated the reply.
2. The story tells us about what happens in encountering Christ. In front of him persons have to adjust themselves and situate themselves. If we look at the gospel stories, we will notice that the crowds changed opinions from time to time. The religious authorities hardened their resistance against Jesus. The disciples opened up in faith.
3. Faith was needed to understand Jesus. But the faith had to be expressed in specific ways. For the disciples they relied on the Hebrew tradition—notably the tradition of the Scriptures. The Hebrew Bible proposed figures that where the expectations and hopes of the Israelites. Israel was looking forwards to a fulfilment and they saw in the prophets of old, for example, signs of that fulfilment. Possibly Jesus was in the same line; but none of the figures of the Hebrew tradition corresponded exactly with Jesus. For example, the disciples may have applied to Jesus the notion of “prophet”, but the notion had to be refined and corrected. Jesus showed to be “more than” prophet.
4. How did the disciples interpret Jesus? They tried to apply in him the tiles they knew from their tradition. Then they gave new meaning to the titles. Jesus was “more than”…
5. The faith of the disciples, as we already said before, took stages of development. It did not happen in a flash. So during the time they were with Jesus before Easter, they were figuring out who exactly was Jesus. Slowly they were applying the tiles they knew. It was only after Easter when their titles made full sense.
Jesus as “eschatological prophet”
6. Before Easter, this tile was already importantly applied to Jesus. (See excursus on Jesus the prophet). Look at Dt.18/15, for example. This was part of the Hebrew tradition that someone—a prophet—like Moses was to show up one day. The disciples looked at Jesus and thought that maybe, just maybe, this was the prophet like Moses. (The figure of Elijah was also an important application). In other words, the time of fulfilment was coming. An “eschatological prophet” notably linked with Moses and Elijah will surely come to make the fulfilment come true.
7. This notion of an “eschatological prophet” was very strong during the time of Jesus. But even if Jesus was perceived as prophetic, he was still understood to be “more than” that. He was greater than Moses and Elijah. The disciples had to re-evaluate and correct their title about Jesus as prophet.
8. Look at the gospel according to Mark. Mark refused to say that Jesus was John the Baptist (6/16). He refused to consider Jesus as Elijah (6/15) and as a prophet like Moses (6/15). Jesus was “more than” them. He was absolutely prophet who would absolutely reveal the plan of God.
The Messiah—the Christ
9. One other title applied to Jesus was “Messiah” or “Christ”. This was “the anointed one”. Already this was a notion in the Old Testament. It had political colour to it. During the time of Jesus there was an expected Messiah—but on a political line. When the disciples looked at Jesus, they have thought of him as a possible liberator Messiah.
10. Jesus seemed to have been distant from this title. This was because of the political risk. Those who accused Jesus played with the political line; even the Roman governor—Pilate—was disturbed. Jesus was seen to be associated with this. Hence, we understand the distance he took—he did not want to be a political Messiah. Yet, up on the cross a mark was nailed: “King of the Jews”. This was to imply the political perception about Jesus.
11. Let us return to the story of Peter’s confession of faith. When Peter said, “You are the Christ”, he did not yet have the full understanding of what “Christ” meant. (See Mt.16/16; Mk.8/29; Lk.9/20). Peter associated “Christ” with politics—he did not want to accept that Jesus was o suffer and die. Jesus had to purify the perception of Peter—he corrected Peter. Indeed Peter had to learn that the Christ appropriate to Jesus had to really suffer and die.
12. Linked with Messiah was the tile “Son of David”. In fact, the belief of the Jews then was that the Messiah was to come from the family of David. To understand the Messiah was to link him with David (see Mt.9/27, 15/22, 20/30-31. See also Mt. 21/9; Mk.11/10).
Then there was the title of Son of God
13. This is not easy to situate—primarily because it seems to be an after-Easter title given to Jesus. It is hard to say if the title was applied to Jesus before Easter. “Son of God”, in the Hebrew tradition, was applied to the people of Israel (see Ex.4/23-25) or the “people of God” (see Ps.2/89 and Ps.110). It was also an application to the Messiah. But in the Old Testament the title suggested adoption—thet the Son was adopted by God. It was not a natural paternity of God.
14. Jesus did not seem to make an official statement using the title attributed to him. This is why Bible experts think that the title was an after-Easter application. Let us not enter into this technicality. What is decisive for us is that Jesus was perceived to be so intimate with God—he really called God his Father: Abba. Already this was clear in the before-Easter time.
15. We end our discussion of the before-Easter time. Later we will look at the Resurrection. Preaching about Jesus will become more explicit and official. The titles that the disciples applied to Jesus before-Easter will now make themselves very clear. Indeed, Jesus and the titles connect. The identity of Jesus would find a high tension point during the crucifixion. Up the cross there was only a dying Jesus. At that point what did all the titles mean? It was necessary that the Resurrection happen to bring things to light. The Resurrection was to be seen as the “signature” of God over the life and message of Jesus. It was to confirm all that Jesus said and did.
16. Soon the title “Christ” will be attached to Jesus as a “second name”. The title “Son of God” will be so clear—so clear that Jesus will be understood in terms of divinity. So all throughout the before-Easter time, Jesus was showing something about himself. It was like a “teaching” process…and the disciples had a “learning” process. Faith took time to develop, with its ups and down. In Jesus, the revelation of God was happening and it took time for the disciples to comprehend.
Exalted after the Resurrection
1. All his life Jesus stayed faithful to the will of his Father. He kept on saying that the Kingdom of God was coming. It was “at hand”. He showed the sense of his preaching through his words and through his gestures and healing. His whole person made actual the presence of God.
2. Yet, his teaching shocked people, especially the religious authorities. It was hard for them to accept that this man Jesus could put himself on equality with God. It was a blasphemy that deserved death.
3. With his death on the cross the credibility he showed seemed to have fallen apart. How is it possible that Jesus is Son of God? How is it possible that this Father could accept the brutal death of his Son? The crucifixion of Jesus took away the credibility of his teaching. We know that the disciples all ran away abandoning him. They were following a failure!
4. Suddenly an event took place. Three days after the death event, Jesus appears risen. The resurrection has given a meaning to the passion. The resurrection of Jesus removed the sense of failure in death. In fact the resurrection even gave a new meaning to suffering. From now on the resurrection would be linked with the passion: “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer* these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk 24/26). The resurrection indicated that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ. He was the one sent by God. It was the “signature of God” that authenticated all the message of Jesus. So Peter would say: “Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Act 2/36). Later Paul would express that Jesus was “established as Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rm 1/4). The resurrection of Jesus was the victory—the clear victory—over death.
5. In the New Testament many verbs express this sense of resurrection: “to awaken”, “to awaken from death”, “rise from the dead”, “be glorified/exalted by God”, “sit at the right hand of God”. In Paul we read: “Christ died… he was buried; that he was raised on the third day” (1 Co 15/3-4). He is raised. The death is an event in the past. He is actually risen now and always. The resurrection happened in time after the death and continues as a reality. Jesus is always living. This is how Paul puts it.
Illustration of Retrospection into Origins: the Infancy Narratives
1. The gospels are like different clothes set side by side. They do not have exact similarities and decorations. Each is original—each is a “version” on its own.
2. Let us look at Mark. He begins his text with this verse: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [the Son of God]” (Mk.1/1). John starts with this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (Jn.1/1). Matthew starts with this: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mt.1/1). Then Matthew continues with a genealogy. Luke starts with a dedication and then presents stories leading to the infancy of Jesus.
3. Matthew and Luke have their way of illustrating. Jesus is the one who makes real the New Covenant.
4. The book of Genesis starts with: “In the beginning the Lord God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen.1/1). The four gospels start this way too—like there is a new beginning in which everything in the Scriptures makes sense. All make sense now in Jesus of Nazareth, son of David, born of the Virgin Mary, Son of God.
5. The infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke form part of the gospel texts even if the style of writing is different from the other parts of the texts. The infancy narratives have a style of “marvel”. Matthew tries to show Jesus as Son of Abraham, Son of David, Son of God. Luke tries to show Jesus as the Son of Mary and Son of God and Saviour.
6. Matthew and Luke give their stories—their versions—of the infancy of Jesus. They are, in fact, two versions with differences in details. Yes, they have some things in common but the differences are clear.
7. We have the temptation to put both versions together. We weave a story in which both versions are together. So we have a view of the infancy of Jesus as if there is only one infancy narrative. Then we present a common view during Christmas.
8. But many are surprised, suddenly, when they realize, for example that there are no three kings. Three? Kings? But still we have three kings in our images. Then there is the cow and the sheep in our crèche. The details we put in Christmas give us the impression that there is one common narrative thread.
9. But let us read the texts as they are given. Let us not add our imaginations. Just look at the evidences as they are presented.
10. The texts are theological texts. No, they are not historical stories. They are theological. For Matthew and Luke all revolves around Jesus. Each narrative is like a starting point that will indicate the general flow of the coming texts. The texts may look like folkloric. But they are theological. They show a “Christology”—who is Christ.
11. The original stories about Jesus were stories of encountering him. They were stories about his words and deeds. Then Gospel authors wrote. There came the written text. Only then did the infancy narratives emerge. The infancy narratives came after the stories of encounter. The infancy narratives were not written to quench the thirst of curiosity. They were not written to complete the stories of encounter. They were written to answer the questions about faith: from where is Jesus. The infancy narratives respond to the question. They are confessions of faith that Jesus, from the line of David, is born of a virgin and God. Jesus is Saviour of Israel and all humanity. The infancy narratives try to express these theological elements.
12. Notice how Matthew describes events differently from Luke. Matthew focuses on the genealogy of Jesus,
· the annunciation to Joseph,
· the birth of Jesus, the visit of the magi,
· the running away to Egypt,
· and the return to Nazareth.
13. Luke has his version. After his dedication to Theophilus, he writes about
· the annunciation to Zachariah, then the annunciation to Mary, then the visitation,
· then the birth of John,
· then the birth of Jesus,
· then the circumcision,
· then the finding in the Temple,
· then the “hidden life” in Nazareth.
14. Notice the different flows of the narratives.
15. Matthew is trying to show that in the infancy we have an idea of the identity of Jesus. Who is Jesus and from where is he?
16. Who is he? He is the Christ, Son of David and Abraham, he is the one announced by the prophets, he is conceived by the Holy Spirit, he is born of the Virgin Mary wife of Joseph. Jesus is also Son of Joseph from the line of David. Yes, he is from that line but he is also Son of God.
17. From where is he? He is born in Bethlehem, and just like Israel he has to face persecution, so he goes to Egypt and then returns to settle in Nazareth.
18. From who is he? He is from God.
19. Notice the similarities and the differences in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. (We need not go into the details). To explain the differences in genealogies it is highly probable—according to experts—that the two authos took from different lists. But the more central reason is theological. The genealogies have their theological emphases. This may be the main reason why they aimed at different lists.
20. Ok, common to them is the Davidid line---that the Christ will come from David. But Matthew—who wrote for Christians of Jewish origin—emphasized the genealogy based on Abraham. Jesus is from Abraham—from the people of Israel. Luke, on the other hand, wrote for Christians of non-Jewish origin, notably the Hellenistic Christians. So his genealogy goes back to Adam—the start of all humanity. See the theological accents therefore?
21. Remember the role of the Resurrection. The infancy narratives take their cue from the Resurrection. They are already confessions of faith retrospective way into the origins of Jesus. This is quite normal. When one writes a book, often the first chapter is written last. The introduction is the last part written. Why? The author wants to clarify the direction of the text and this direction will be describe at the start. But the start will be written last because the direction has been clear.
22. The early Christian communities raised the question about the origin of Jesus. Matthew and Luke wrote for them. From the resurrection retrospect was done to the origins. He is Jesus who is like any other human. But his infacncy has become interesting because of what happened to him next—especially the resurrection.
23. Just note Luke’s approach. If we read closely the “little Jesus” is already the risen Lord. The coming of the infant is at the same time the coming of the Risen Lord.
24. The gospel texts are about Jesus—and the memories of encountering him. The infancy narratives were written in view of the whole story. The story will also be a kind of clarification of the infancy narratives. So first of all, present immediately Jesus as Saviour, Son of God, etc.
Death and Beyond in the Bible
By Patrice Bergeron, Sébastien Doane et Yves Guillemette
(Our adaptation of http://www.interbible.org/interBible/decouverte/ressources/dossiers/dib_mort.pdf)
1. If we do not believe in “paradise”, If we do not believe in “hell”, If we do not believe in “resurrection”, what then do we say will happen after death? Curious but note that for the Hebrews during the time of Moses and even during the time of the Kings and the prophets there was no solid “theology” about what happened after death. Death was simply the end of life…Nothing more. There was the idea of “sheol”. The idea of sheol was that of a tomb—a deep hole in which cadavers were put. So when someone dies and is put to the tomb, that person is in sheol.
2. The Hebrews did not have the idea of separation between body and soul. The human was a whole unit—not a divided “body-soul” unit. One simply died and went to sheol. One notion of shoel is that it was a place of darkness, slence, dust, absence and forgetfulness. Communication in shoel was impossible—God was absent there. The dead cannot get out of sheol. Sheol was a total break from the living world.
3. The Old Testament would look at death without making any drama or decoration. The human, for the Old Testament, was limited and finite.
4. Sometime in history when the notion of life after death was being developed sheol would become a place of waiting for God’s judgement. It would be a place in which one waited for the final resurrection.
A Theology of retribution
5. Without the resurrection how then can God be faithful to the just person? On earth God can punish the “bad guy” and reward the “good guy”. The good person who was just can have a prosperous life and have descendants. No, it was in in heaven where the reward will be given. Reward was on earth. This was the idea of “retribution”. If a person was just, that person will have wealth, prosperity, many children and grandchildren etc. If a person was unjust and very bad, that person will have punishment in the form of illness, poverty, sterility, no descendant, etc.
6. Abraham was a just man. So God gave him many descendants and a big troop of sheep. He had women and concubines. He lived long.
7. So even if there was no idea of life after death, God was seen to be faithful to his covenant because he gave reward on earth to the just. We Christians are familiar with the idea of life after death and we may forget that life in the here and now on earth is where we can relate with God. The great men and women that we read about in the Old Testament had no notion of life after death yet they had faith in God.
8. But how then do we appreciate retribution if a just person suffers injustice? Job is an example. He observed the commandments. He followed all the prescriptions. He was a just man obeying the commandments of God. Yet, he fell ill—very ill. He also lost his possessions including his family.
9. The book of Job seems to show that there may have been two authors. One author, the author who wrote the early chapters wanted to keep the idea of retribution. The Lord God blessed the just and cursed the unjust. Take the following verse: “’We accept good things from God; should we not accept evil?’ Through all this, Job did not sin in what he said” (2/10).
10. But then there are parts of he book written by the other author. Job could not agree with his friends regarding retribution. His friends were telling him that God punished the unjust. If someone did wrong that person merited punishment. Because Job was ill and lost his family, he must have done something wrong.
11. But Job did not agree. The retribution idea made no sense. The just also suffered—and in the case of Job it was even a physical suffering. The God that Job knew did not function well. The reality was so different from his idea of God. Now, Job had an idea of sheol. For him it was a place of rest and tranquillity! “Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? Why did knees receive me, or breasts nurse me? For then I should have lain down and been tranquil; had I slept, I should then have been at rest” (Job 3/11-13).
12. Life was just a passing reality for Job. “Man born of woman is short-lived and full of trouble, Like a flower that springs up and fades, swift as a shadow that does not abide. … For a tree there is hope; if it is cut down, it will sprout again, its tender shoots will not cease. Even though its root grow old in the earth and its stump die in the dust, Yet at the first whiff of water it sprouts and puts forth branches like a young plant. But when a man dies, all vigour leaves him; when a mortal expires, where then is he?” (Job 14/1-2 and 7-10).
13. So Job had that question: if a person died what happened next? Job may have been asking the question that we ourselves also might be asking. In the end Job accused God. “Oh, that I had one to hear my case: here is my signature:* let the Almighty answer me! Let my accuser write out his indictment!” (Job 31/35).
14. The Lord God gave his reply to Job by asking Job questions: “Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its size? Surely you know? Who stretched out the measuring line for it? Into what were its pedestals sunk, and who laid its cornerstone, While the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? “ (Job 38/4-7). God was telling Job that Job had no perspective. He did not understand God’s vision of creation. He was ignorant. It is also a reply for us. We should not try to be God as if we can explain everything including life after death. Only God knows. God is the one and only creator.
15. How did the whole book of Job end? It ended like it was at the start. There was the idea of retribution. Job regained his possessions, his health and his family. “After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; and he saw his children, his grandchildren, and even his great-grandchildren. Then Job died, old and full of years” (Job 42/16-17).
16. The story of Job was a kind of representation of the history of the Hebrews. It was the period of exile in Babylon and the people asked themselves why suffer when in fact they were living justly. The idea of retribution was put to question during the exile. The questioning was to open up a new idea of the link between life and death.
17. Let us look at Qoheleth. The book of Qohelet (or the “Book of Ecclesiastes”) was written during the Greek occupation. Palestine was under the Greek-Seleucides in 250 to about 200 BC. The book was similar to the book of Job. It also questioned the traditional notion of retribution. The assertion about retribution did not correspond with reality.
18. “Bad guys” seemd to be prosperous while the just suffered! It did not matter if one was just or unjust. Happiness and good luck seemed to have nothing to do with being just or unjust. So the idea of retributiuon was not reliable for understanding life—or death. “This is a vanity that occurs on earth: There are those who are just but are treated as though they had done evil, and those who are wicked but are treated as though they had done justly. This, too, I say is vanity” (Ecc.8/14).
19. The human shares the same fate as the animals. Both share the same death. This is what Qoheleth said: “For the lot of mortals and the lot of beasts is the same lot: The one dies as well as the other. Both have the same life breath. Human beings have no advantage over beasts, but all is vanity. Both go to the same place; both were made from the dust, and to the dust they both return. Who knows if the life breath of mortals goes upward and the life breath of beasts goes earthward?” (Ecc 3/19-21).
20. Just like the animals we too die. We are as equal as the animals. Remember that at that time there was no belief in the after death yet. So Qoheleth was really pointing at this absurdity. Yet, he proposed hope—a light of hope. He suggested that we enjoy life in the presentmoment. The pleasures are like gifts of God: “Go, eat your bread* with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, because it is now that God favors your works. At all times let your garments be white, and spare not the perfume for your head. Enjoy life with the wife you love, all the days of the vain life granted you under the sun. This is your lot in life, for the toil of your labors under the sun” (Ecc.9/7-9).
21. Yet, even if we have fun and have pleasure, all that is still vanity. Pleasures pass away. “Should one have a hundred children and live many years, no matter to what great age, still if one has not the full benefit of those goods, I proclaim that the child born dead, even if left unburied, is more fortunate.Though it came in vain and goes into darkness and its name is enveloped in darkness, though it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet the dead child has more peace. Should such a one live twice a thousand years and not enjoy those goods, do not both go to the same place?” (Ecc 6, 3-6).
22. And so Qohelet repeated over and over again: “Vanities of all vanities, all is vanity”. But what is “vanity” here? The Hebrew word is hèvèl and it is usually translated a vanity. Hèvèl imples what is lasting only for a while, brief, not constant. For Qohelet experiences in life are vain— hèvèl …whther they are good or bad. In front of death all life is passing away; it is absurd. Qohelet leads us to an aspect of our human reality. He tells us not to remain in illusion. He reminds us not to get stuck in the reality of our finitude. Death is death. It is frustrating for those who desire for the infinite.
The rise of the idea of Resurrection in Judaism: The Maccabees brothers
23. The idea of the resurrection came slowly and progressively. There were texts written a little before the time of Jesus. There came an time of aspiration and hope. Very difficult events happened in the life of Israel. Slowly Israel began to start thinking about the possible resurrection of the just. It all started at a time of persecution. The Jews were under the Greek empire. The Seleucid Greeks took over Palestine. Antiochus IV Epiphanes became ruler of that empire.
24. When the Greek Emperor Alexander the Great died the Greek empire was divided into sections. Greek rulers reigned over Palestine and they had different kinds of attitudes towards the Hebrews. Some were tolerant but others were strongly inclinded to change the Jewish culture. Antiochus IV Epiphanes was not very tolerant. He tried to prohibit circumcision, the observance of Sabbath, the different practices of the Law. He obliged Jews to participate in ceremonies honouring other gods. The Jews were told to share in sacrifices using pork and they were to eat pork. There was opposition from the Jews. Many wanted to conserve the tradition. Many refused to follow the commands of the Greeks. We can read a lot about this in the two books of Maccabees.
25. The Greek ruler commanded that everyone conform to the rule of the King and that everyone should give up the tradition. The customs of Greeks were imposed; the sacrificial holocausts were prohibited; Sabbath feasts were prohibited; pork was eaten; boys were not circumcised; etc. Whoever refused would be killed. The Greek ruler then created a group of inspectors to check how the people were obeying him (see 1 Mac 1/41-51).
26. The Greek culture was dominant in the region and it was an attractive culture. Even the Jews of Jerusalem and the priests of the Temple were attracted—they were open to some form of assimilation. We read this in Maccabees: “In those days there appeared in Israel transgressors of the law who seduced many, saying: ‘Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us.’ The proposal was agreeable; some from among the people promptly went to the king, and he authorized them to introduce the ordinances of the Gentiles. Thereupon they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem according to the Gentile custom. They disguised their circumcision and abandoned the holy covenant; they allied themselves with the Gentiles and sold themselves to wrongdoing” (1Mac.1/11-15).
27. A high point of the story is when the Greek ruler, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, consecrated the Temple to the Greek god Zeus. The Jews saw this as a deep profanation of the Temple. It was an abomination of desolation. Antiochus IV Epiphanes conctructed the abomination of desolation on the Temple’s altar. Then he has similar altars built around Judah. So we read: “On the fifteenth day of the month Kislev, in the year one hundred and forty-five,* the king erected the desolating abomination upon the altar of burnt offerings, and in the surrounding cities of Judah they built pagan altars” (1 Mac 1/54).
28. The identity of the Jews was hit and insulted. Those who did not want assimilation with the Greeks had to react. There were two possible reactions. One was by resisting violently—take arms and fight. The other was by resisting in relious terms—be more zealous in observing the Jewish religion. These reactions will be proof of fidelity to God and to the Law.
29. During this time of the persecution by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, two Jewish movements were born. One was the Zealot movement which was revolutionary. The other was the Pharisee movement. These movements have taken roots in this time of persecution. The Maccabees brothers took leadership of a revolution that hoped to liberate politically and religiously. So the Greeks faced a resistance of a religious form of very intense religious observance.
30. How then did the idea of resurrection surface here? The persecutions opened up the conviction that if someone died to the point of martyrdom faithful to the Law and refused to offer to idols, God will recompense that person after death. So during this dark time the idea of “recompense after death” was born. This was to be realized in the resurrection of the just at the end of time. We read about this in the story of the brothers who were being forced to eat pork: “After the first brother had died in this manner, they brought the second to be made sport of. After tearing off the skin and hair of his head, they asked him, “Will you eat the pork rather than have your body tortured limb by limb?” Answering in the language of his ancestors, he said, “Never!” So he in turn suffered the same tortures as the first. With his last breath he said: “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up* to live again forever, because we are dying for his laws” (2Mac. 7/7-9).
31. And so too, at this time, a conception about the dead emerged. It was the idea of intercession for the dead. Believing that it was possible to live after death, the idea that we can intercede for the dead became possible. Take the example of the story of the defeat in one battle. It was the defeat of a troop of Judas Maccabees. Some of the dead were carrying idols and amulets of the foreign divinities. It was a serious sin of idolatry. Judas Maccabees then offered a sacrifice for the expiation of the sins of soldiers with idols. We read: “He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin” (2 Mac. 12/43-45).
32. So the sun regarding resurrection has risen. With the Maccabees episode we can state the following: à There was born the idea of the resurrection of the Just. There is reward after death for those who remain faithful to the Lord God and to the Law. The martyr will be glorified by resurrection after death; and will have eternal life. à The unfaithful will have the fate of going to sheol and staying there. à Those still living can intercede for the forgiveness of sins of the dead.
33. We make a big step with the Maccabees episode. It makes us feel closer to the Catholic line of belief in the resurrection, the reward for saints and intercession for the dead.
Life after death in the Book of Wisdom
34. This book contributes something new on the theme of life after death. The book was written about fifty years before Christ. The author is unknown. He may have been from the Jewish community in Egypt. The book is in Greek. The book is a clear example of the mixing of cultures—notably Greek and Jewish cultures. The author took inspiration from Hebrew scriptures and from Greek writing. He was writing for Jews who had little or no idea of the ancient Jewish culture because they have been so marked already by the Greek ways. He was also writing for Greek readers as he wanted to show them the superiority of Judaism.
35. The question of life after death is treated in the first section (chapt 1-5). It deals with a reflection on the human condition in the light of faith in God. The author compares the fates of the just and the unjust. What happens to each of them before and after death?
36. So the just may look like having lived a failure. The unjust may look like having a success. But after death, there will be a reversal. The author faces the problem of the just dying without reward. The author gives an answer saying that even if the just people are persecuted on earth, their souls will enjoy perfect peace with God and they will be rewarded on the day of Judgement. The souls of the just will be on the hands of God. They will never experience torment.
37. They may seem dead—in the view of the unjust. The unjust will see them as unfortunate. But actually the just will be in peace. Their hope is filled with immortality. God, in fact, has put them on trial and God has found them worthy of him. They are like gold tested in purity. God has found them a perfect holocaust; very acceptable. When they come to visit, they will glitter; they will be sparkling. They will judge the nations and dominate over people. The Lord will reign over them forever.
38. Those who will put their confidence on the just will understand the truth. Grace and mercy are for the saints. (See Wis 3/1-9). There are two words (typically Greek) that give the idea of the future reward of the just: “Immortality” (see Wis 1/15 ; 3/ 4 ; 4/ 1 ; 8/ 17 ; 15/ 3) and “incorruptibility” (see 2/ 23 ; 6/
39. 18-19). The author or Wisdom wants the reader to realize that the life of the just does not end with physical death. The life of the just is eternal and glorious with God.
40. For the author the search for wisdom is also the way of justice; justice is life led in conformity with the will of God and expressed in the Law (Torah): concrete fidelity to what is good, the refusal of what is evil, sinful, duplicity, insult and telling a lie (see Wis1/4-11). “Because God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being, and the creatures of the world are wholesome; There is not a poison among them nor any domain of Hades on earth, For righteousness is undying” (Wis.1/13-15). Immortality and wisdom go together: “immortality lies in kinship with Wisdom” (Wis8/17).
41. What about the unjust? The unjust people give up immortality even now. They are, in fact, already dead. Immortality is not abstract—it already is applied to the soul of the unjust. The unjust thinks that life is short and sad. There is remedy when one dies because nobody has returned from after life. The human is born by chance. After death we will be exactly like we never existed. We are like smoke or the breath of our nostrils. Our thoughts are like sparks that will die off. The body will return to dust and the soul will disperse. Soon we will be forgotten and nobody will remember us. Life will be like a passing cloud. Life will be like a fog removing the rays of the sun. Our days are like the passing shadows; we will not return. The seal is stamped; no one returns from death. This is how the unjust thinks. They do not see the secret of God. (See Wis 2/1-5) The reality is this: “God formed us to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made us. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are allied with him experience it” (Wis2/21-24).
The debate about resurrection in the time of Jesus
42. Now we move to the time of Jesus. We see that during his time the belief in the resurrection was not yet accepted by all. There were differences in views about it. There were those who already believed in it. Martha was one of them. In the gospel according to John we read that Jesus rose Lazarus from the dead. Before doing that he spoke to Martha. We read: “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise’. Martha said to him, ‘I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day’ (Jn 11/23-24).
43. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection. The faith of the Pharisees have taken roots at the time of the Maccabees. But the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. The Sadducees were very conservative. They were focused on the written Torah (what we call as Pentateuch). The books there are the most ancient Jewish texts. They represent the ancient Jewish beliefs. In the texts the resurrection is never affirmed. So the Sadducees could not accept the fact of the resurrection.
44. The situation is well attested by the story of the woman with seven husbands who all died. The question was raised then. “Now at the resurrection, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had been married to her” (Mt 22/28). Jesus took a position. He seemed to have taken the position of the Pharisees. “Jesus said to them in reply, ‘You are misled because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven” (Mt 22/29-30).
45. Of course we will need to study what “like angels” mean. But the point we note in the answer of Jesus is that he tried to remove the materialistic view of the resurrection implied by the Sadducees. The after-life will not be a continuation of the present life. It will not be a repetition of the present life—like in marriage and inheritance. For Jesus, to resurrect is to be in a radical transformation—a change—and it is to pass to another form of relationships that will not perish.
46. In the Acts of the Apostles we read about the antagonism between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Paul was questioned regarding his belief. He was put in front of the Sanhedrin. Noticing that the assembly was composed of Pharisees and Sadducees he provoked the group, saying: “’My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees; I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead’. When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the group became divided” (Act 23/6-7).
47. Let us keep in mind that during that time—and during the time of Jesus—nobody was forced to believe in the resurrection. The Judaism at that time had many opinions about the question of the resurrection. What we might have to do now is look at what Jesus taught.
Was the resurrection of Jesus historical?
1. It was both historical and non-historical. It was non-historical because nobody was there at the tomb to see him rise. Nobody also could really explain how dead body cells come to live again. It is un-explainable by science and history.
2. Yet it was historical because it really happened. It happened in a particular time and in a particular place. Jesus really rose from the dead.
3. Clear traces of the resurrection are given. There were people—notably the Apostles—who saw Jesus appear again after death. So the witnessing of the Apostles count as historical. Indeed there were people who claimed that they saw Jesus alive again—risen from the dead. This is historically undeniable!
4. To say that there were witnesses to the appearance of Jesus is to speak historically. To say that Jesus rose from the dead—this is a matter of faith. It is faith that relies on the words of the witnesses. Faith says that the words of the Apostles are credible.
5. If this is an act of faith it is also a conversion. Earlier, right after the death of Jesus, the disciples were scattered and confused. They just could not accept that their friend and leader could die. Was he not the Messiah? Was he not to restore Israel? But then, when they saw the appearances of Jesus, they were converted. They had a change of mind and heart. The message of Jesus when he was still in Palestine before death—the message suddenly made sense in the resurrection.
6. Because of this faith the Christian disciple becomes a “ressurectional Christian” (Sesboue). The words, gestures, actions and choices are in the light of the resurrection. The life of the Christian is a life of the light—saying that darkness is not what determines life. Hence, the Christian is “resurrectional”. This is so even in contacts with others—the Christian spreads the light of the resurrection.
Faith in the resurrection of Christ
1. Historians are not able to prove the historical rising of Jesus. But historians agree on the historical reality of the AFFIRMATION about the resurrection. This affirmation put disciples on the path to starting the life of the Church. The resurrection of Jesus is in the heart of the proclamation of the Good News. The conviction of the disciples—that Jesus has risen from the dead—has given the disciples the force to reach out to the far corners of the world. This conviction had given them the courage to risk their lives for the Good News.
2. The resurrection of Christ signified for the disciples the definite victory of life over death, light over darkness. It is a victory for them shown by what happened to Jesus.
3. For the disciples, the resurrection meant that Jesus shared the life of the Father—totally. The New Testament writers expressed this in many ways. But for them, the resurrection of Jesus was not the same as the immortality of the soul.
4. The disciples met Jesus in Galilee, in Palestine. It was a very « body encounter ». They ate and drank with him. The passed through happy and rough moments together. Jesus was put to the cross—clearly also a body reality. Then they affirmed the presence of Jesus after the death of Jesus. They really saw—and touched—and ate and drank with Jesus. All, again, were « body realities ».
5. The New Testament thus showed a continuity between the Jesus before death and the Jesus at the resurrection. The man of Nazareth and Palestine was the very same man who rose from the dead. Yet, the New testament report a « break ». Something new took place. Those who met Jesus after the resurrection did not recognize him immediately. At one point Jesus had to show the scars of his wounds suffered on the cross.
6. Christians would say that Jesus is risen and is living. He is glorified with the Father. This implicates the Christians too ! For the Christian, the resurrection of Jesus Christ means that the human person is called to rise with Jesus.
7. Now, let us go slowly here. The word « flesh », remember, is not in the Greek sense. Nor is it in the modern scientific sense (minerals, atoms, cells and genes). « Flesh » is human person, embodied. Remember Marcel’s notion of « having » a body and « being » my body.
8. For the Christian, the resurrection does not just affirm the return to earthly life—to the life before death. It also means a new life—a life IN GOD.
9. The Church knows the difficulty involved when speaking of the « resurrection of the body ». Remember the Apostles’ creed prayed during mass where we say : «I believe in…the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting ». Originally, in the Nicene council, it is written as « resurrection of the flesh » or « of the body ». The Church went through long reflections on this phrase. It was not easy. Let us look at St. Paul and see how he can help.
10. St. Paul, in his 1Corinthians, affirms the reality of the resurrection. But he also says that we cannot imagine what that « after life » could be. Let us read the crucial passage—which is not easy to fully appreciate because of the vocabulary :
« But someone may say, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back?" You fool! What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind; but God gives it a body as he chooses, and to each of the seeds its own body. Not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for human beings, another kind of flesh for animals, another kind of flesh for birds, and another for fish. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the brightness of the heavenly is one kind and that of the earthly another.
The brightness of the sun is one kind, the brightness of the moon another, and the brightness of the stars another. For star differs from star in brightness. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one. So, too, it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living being," the last Adam a life-giving spirit. But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven. As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly, and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one. » (1Cor. 35-49)
11. St. Paul seems to be extremely abstract here—although we have encountered parts of this in our study of miracles. One of the difficulties is in his use of the words «natural body » and « spiritual body ». St. Paul, however, is frank and honest enough to admit that we cannot imagine the form that we would take at the rising again. His faith in the resurrection is based on his certainty about the resurrection of Jesus.
12. St. Paul is convinced that this resurrection of Jesus concerns us too—you and me and everybody else—and it is NOT JUST ABOUT THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL. If Jesus rose as one total Jesus Christ, so too we.
13. Do not forget that St. Paul was semitic—a Jew. So he was not dualist like the Greeks or modern people. For St. Paul, each of us is « my body », a «body reality » in full and not just partial. So we are called to resurrection in full, just like Jesus.
14. St. Paul also notes that there is continuity and break. A seed, for example, « dies » to become sprout and then plant and then tree. The tree or plant is not the seed anymore—there is a break. There is the path from death of the seed to the emergence of the plant. Yet, the tree or plant started from the grain—there is continuity. The body that St. Paul wrote about is not just a mass of cells and genes. It is body as I am—or more precisely, body that I have AND I am…the paradox. It is the body that gives me my identity and puts me in relationship with the world.
15. Again : When St. Paul wrote about the body, he mean the person—the entire person. The body is what makes me who I am, distinct from others. It is my identity. It is the core of my communication, my relation. It is beyond « just skin » or « just clothes and things I own ». I am called to rise again, just like Jesus, all together of who I am.
16. In your study of the Church, you might have to see how the body of Christ resurrected is the Church. But we leave that to your class in Ecclesiology—or Church theology.
Death and Beyond in the Bible
By Yves Guillemette
(Our adaptation of http://www.interbible.org/interBible/decouverte/ressources/dossiers/dib_mort.pdf)
Part II: What Jesus Taught
1. We never had an experience of dying and then resurrecting. Some say that the afterlife will not be the same. Yet others say that after death is nothing. We are really in front of something so unknown. There are more questions than clarifications about it. No dead has come back to explain. In the book of Wisdom we read: “Short and sad is our life, there is no remedy when the end comes and none of us knows of anyone returning from the land of death” (Wis 2/1).
2. But still, we really know someone who has been there. This is Christ. We believe that he is eternally living and that he has entered the fullness of life. Yes, he has promised that for anyone who believes in him that person will be given eternal life. Yet Jesus has not given any details of the beyond.
3. When Jesus speaks of the life after death he evokes the feeling of joy—the joy of having communion with one another and with God. Life after death is associated with the accomplishment of the Kingdom of God and Universal Judgement. There is joy is participating in the messianic banquet (see Mt 22/1-14; Lk 14/16-24). There is joy in being accepted as faithful servant that has cared for the affairs of the master (see Mt 24/37-51). There is joy in the rewards of having loved the neighbour (see Mt 25/31-46). See also the parable of the poor Lazarus who ends with Abraham while the rich man is in torture (see Lk 16/19-31). All these show something in common: chase away fear in front of God. Heaven is about the encounter with God, Our Father, to whom we place confidence just as Jesus has given him confidence. God is also someone who knows our fragility and is happy to see even a small sign of good will from us as we respond to his love. Do not forget the parable of the “prodigal son” (see Lk. 15/11-32).
4. So what we have are images that can awaken in us but not describe for us life after death. The image of the house of the Father is very interesting. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where [I] am going you know the way.” (Jn 14/2-4). Put this image together with the prologue of John in which Jesus says that faith in the Son makes one adopted child of the Father: “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name” (Jn 1/12).
5. In Hebrew and In Aramaic, the word “bayit” refers to both “house” and “family”. Family links are never really destroyed. Faith in Jesus makes us re-born in the life of God forever—in the house of the Father. Image of this house of the Father is applied to the life-after. It evokes fraternal communion of all the children of the Father, united in the same faith in the beloved Son in whom there is life. “Through him was life” (Jn 1/4). Each has a place in the family of the Father. We hope that each will conserve the character of one’s person.
6. This perspective about the future gives direction to the present. It shapes our way of living; it shapes the way we are to live. This is fraternal love done here and now. This already gives us a taste of joy, knowing that we will have fullness of life in loving communion with the Father and his children.
7. The gospel of John gives a very developed theology of the eternal life. In the prologue life is affirmed as a reality of the Word of God: “…this life was the light of the human race” (1/4). This life has been given by the Father to the Son so that the Son will pass it on to us. This life is communicated to all who, believing in the Word become flesh, become children of the Father. For John eternal life is knowledge of God and communion with God.
8. The life of God meets with humans through the mission of the Son: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (10/10). Because the life of God is transmitted by the work of Jesus, Jesus himself is presented as himself being Life: “I am the resurrection and the Life, who believes in me, even if he dies, will live; whoever lives and believes in my will never die” (11/25-26).
9. Jesus gives living water—water of eternal life. He offers bread that is eternal. He is the light that leads to life. He has the words of eternal life (see 6/68).
10. The gift of life is linked with the elevation and glory of Jesus. It is the highlight of his work: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (3/16).
11. In chapter 17 we read about the request of Jesus to his Father to glorify him—that is, to reveal his divine nature so that life can reach those given to him by the Father. ““Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people,b so that he may give eternal life to all you gave him. Now this is eternal life,c that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (17/1-3). In his death and rising again Jesus has found the communion he has always had from the beginning with God. He associates us with this communion. We can receive the life of God through faith in Jesus. Faith is our response to the work of God realized by Jesus: ““This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent” (6/29).
12. So we enter in life by listening to the Son; believing in him and recognizing that he was the one sent by the Father: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day” (6/40).
A note on the glorification of the body of Jesus
1. For the disciples to recognize the risen Lord, they needed time. Yes, they have known him—and they knew him well. Yet, this time they needed a movement in recognizing Jesus. In fact they did mistook him for someone else (see for example Jn 20,15; 21,4).
2. The stories of the appearances show how slow and uncertain the disciples were in recognizing Jesus. They even doubted (see for example Mt 28/17). So the Risen Lord was quite different from anyone met in the street.
3. Jesus did not seem limited by the conditions of the world. For example he revealed in the middle of the Twelve while the doors were locked (see Jn 20/19; Lk 24/36). He would disappear as soon as he was recognized—like wind (see Lc 24/31). So he was completely transformed—glorified. His body did not have the same properties as before!
4. The resurrection of Jesus was not, however, a simple re-animation of the body…not just a dead-coming-to-life! If that was the case, then that body will die again. That body will pas through the same conditions again—corruption and death.
5. But in the case of Jesus, his body was not longer submitted to the same conditions as our body. The resurrected body did not belong to this world anymore. The body of Jesus has taken another dimension. So he did not just re-take a physical body again. His new life went beyond what we can understand.
6. The same will happen to our bodies. Sain Paul would call our risen bodies as “spiritual bodies” (see 1 Co 15/44). Hard to imagine, right? It is a spiritual body—not material. But, it will still be “my body” inasmuch as in allows me to be in relationship.
7. Material bodies are limited in space and time. Our faith tells us that this will be different with our risen bodies. Our risen bodies—“spiritual bodies”—will be free from material limits.
8. Again we look at Jesus after rising. He can be in a room even with the doors locked. He can leave and disappear at will. We can still recognize each other in the same way that Jesus was recognized (see Mt 28/9-10; Lk 24/36-43).
9. The other question is this: will this happen after our death or at the end of time? Our faith talks about “particular” judgement and “final” judgement. The resurrection of our bodies will happen at the end of time. That’s the final judgement when the glory of Christ will be so fulfilled.
10. Meanwhile….we will undergo “particular” judgement. We are not necessarily deprived yet of our bodies. Even the dead are “in Christ”. When Christ is fully revealed at the end of time we will all rise again—all, both good and bad. Those who chose Christ will be glorified with him. Those who refused him will resurrect—but not glorified.
11. Well, let us admit that we cannot really discern fully our “spiritual bodies”. We cannot have clear details. All we have is the confidence of faith that somehow we are in the project of God who wants us to have eternal life.
What about “Reincarnation”
1. Reincarnation means “return to flesh”—“re” and “incarnate”. So one becomes flesh and human again. There are many forms of belief here and in general they all say that a non-material element in the human continues to live after death in another bodily life. Sometimes reincarnation is interpreted as a “transmigration” of the non-material element (soul or spirit).
2. Many experts say that India is one of the major countries that has produced this idea of reincarnation. From the early aboriginal times in India, reincarnation was already a dominant religious theme. When new waves of cultures entered India, reincarnation was assimilated in the beliefs. Sometime in the 5th century BC, an Indian mystic named Yajnavalkya gave a more coherent explanation of reincarnation.
3. He said that reincarnation is a result of our actions. What we do now has its effects later. Our actions often are never completed. They continue to have effects later. This is why we reincarnate. Reincarnation is a result and a continuity of actions.
4. My actions now is to be a good man and a good father to my children. The actions are not totally finished—I still have to become better. But I die. So what happens? I reincarnate into a new life to continue the unfinished actions.
5. The human being dies, of course. But the actions cause new rebirth. The next life inherits the unfinished actions of the past. If actions of the past are bad, then, sorry, the next life will have to continue the results of evil. If actions are good, then, luckily, the next life will be good.
6. Although India is famous for this, Ancient Greece also has its share. The ancient Greeks believed a lot in a substance “soul” in the human being. They would say that when a person dies, the “soul” goes to another body.
7. Already in the early Greek myths reincarnation has been mentioned. Well, some historians think that the notion was originally inspired by Hinduism when Greece got into contact with India. Anyway, the Greek idea is that the “soul” enters into other bodies. Some ancient Greeks, like Phyrecide (around 500BC) said that the soul is immortal…it just moves from one body to another. The “soul” is always in movement.
8. All living creatures are “fraternal”—souls are brothers and sisters. Any soul can move to a new body. The Greek philosopher, Plato, believed that the soul is purified as it goes from one to another body. But there is also the need to know how to manage emotions and passions. If one is a very angry man now, the chance is his soul will “transmigrate” to a new body in angry form. Maybe the new life will make him a tyrant.
9. In the catholic-Christian tradition, reincarnation is not accepted. We will resurrect…not reincarnate. We do not become flesh again—we will be glorified. Also, if Jesus died and rose from the dead once and for all then we see no place for having to live again. This is the Christian stand.
The Knowledge of Jesus: Part II
Taking cue from Modern Theologians—like Karl Rahner
1. A movement of thinking arose among theologians—like Rahner, Schillibex, Nendoncelle, etc.
The point they emphasize is that we should respect the human condition of Jesus. The unity of
Jesus with divinity should not mean that his knowledge is “out of time” and already absolute.
These theologians took a new look at the New Testament.
2. Contemporary understanding of the gospels show—and we have studied this earlier—that there
was a “retrojection” into the historical Jesus the features of the risen Jesus. Gospel authors
looked back at the life of Jesus with the eyes on the exalted Jesus. So what we read in the gospels
are features of a “growing” knowledge of Jesus—with limits and ignorance. But because of
the experience of encountering the exalted Jesus, the gospel authors included in their texts the
more “absolute” and “exalted” knowledge of Jesus. The tension is clear in the New Testament.
3. Mark seems to have been very keen in showing a limited Jesus who had to face different
situations. Jesus asked questions, he did not know everything. And yet, Mark was also sure in
showing the intimacy between Jesus and the Father (see 1/11). Here we see a Jesus with authority
with full knowledge of the revelation of God. He was not like the scribes (1/21), he could read
hearts of people (2/8) and he was impressive with wisdom (6/1-2).
4. The tension also can be seen in Matt and Lk. But these two seem to have more inclination
towards a Jesus with superior knowledge. Both, for example, show the mutuality between Father
and Son (Mtt.11/27 and Lk.10/22). This does not deny the limitation of Jesus. In Mtt (like in Mk)
Jesus does not know the day of judgment (Mtt.24/36). In Lk we see that Jesus grew in knowledge
and wisdom (Lk.2/40 and 52). The tension is in Mtt and Lk.
5. Well, in the 4th gospel, we read that the Word became flesh. The pre-existent Word entered into
history. The pre-existent Word decided to take human limits. So we can see the dimension limited
and human in the knowledge of Jesus (see Jn4/6-7; 11/33-35; 12/27). But John really emphasized
the superior knowledge of Jesus (see for example 1/14; 2/24-25; 3/11; 8/38 etc). He looked at the
historical Jesus with the influence of the exalted Jesus. The glory of the resurrected Jesus shine on
the earthly Jesus.
6. The gospels really had in mind the earthly-historical life of Jesus. Bible experts note from the
gospel accounts that when Jesus was facing his death, he “knew” it will happen. But it was in a
way that Jesus saw the consequence of his mission. He will really face resistance and rejection.
The consequence was he was to be killed. It became clearer over time. In a way Jesus slowly
discovered that his mission was what the Father really wanted for Israel and all humanity. It
became necessary to be faithful to that mission—and Jesus knew the consequence.
7. The tension we see in the gospel accounts is not incompatible with Chalcedon. In fact, the tension
is a sign of what the councils have been saying—the tension between the divine and the human
natures of Jesus.
8. Let us look at what one theologian, K. Rahner, would contribute to this question of the
knowledge of Jesus. Let us admit, he would say, that Jesus had a very close relationship with the
Father—so much so that Jesus had a “beatific vision”. So this is accepting the line of Medieval
theology. However, this beatific vision was part of the “non-thematic” side of Jesus. Rahner
introduced this notion of “thematic/non –thematic”.
9. Thematic is that which we focus on, that which is in the scope of our attention. So when we are
reading something, like the newspaper, the news are thematic. We pay attention to them. What
about the “non-thematic”. These are the elements outside our attention but they accompany our
attention. It is hard to seize the non-thematic because it is always outside our attention. We do
not pay attention to them. Take the example of looking. When we look at something—say an
object—we see the object. But accompanying what we see is the activity of the eyes, the act of
looking and seeing. The act of looking is non in our focus, it is not in our attention. The object is
the theme but the act of looking is non-thematic.
10. So, if applied to Jesus, the immediacy with God is there present in him—but it is non-thematic. It
accompanies Jesus always but it has not gone into his attention at once. Yes, Rahner would say,
there is no denial of the fantastic knowledge of Jesus. Ok, he had a beatific vision. Let us not take
away the Medieval theologian’s interpretation. But this knowledge was not in the focus of Jesus.
11. Jesus needed to grow and develop, like any human. The non-thematic had to become
thematic…in time. In other words, Jesus slowly developed an understanding of who he was. He
did not see iot immediately. It took time.
12. Rahner would compare the situation of Jesus with that of a child. A child—a baby—cannot
thematise many things. It does not know, thematically, what it means to “be human”. Yet the
baby “knows” he/she is human. It is underneath all that the baby does. Slowly, in the course of
time, the baby encounters experiences in which he/she takes more notice of his/her being human.
The baby has always sensed his/her human self…but development had to happen for the baby pay
more attention to his/her humanity. Slowly the non-thematic became thematic.
13. Jesus, Rahner would say, grew up this way. But he was different too. Not only did he know he
was human, he also knew he was Son of God. It was accompanying him non-thematically. It took
some time before he could really start seeing it in a thematic way.
14. Slowly Jesus grew in wisdom, as Luke would report (2/52). The obscure knowledge began to
grow and develop. Jesus grew up and underwent the same conditions as the children of his time.
Rahner would say that the sense of being Son of God had to slowly grow. The fact that he was
Son of God is not the issue. But even if he was not yet so aware of it, he was completely Son of
God. The development did not stop him from being Son of God.
15. In the Temple when Jesus was asking questions, we might say that it was an indication of the
growing up of Jesus (see Lk.2/46-47). At this point he was sensing his Sonship with the Father.
As Jesus grew up and became adult—including his encounters with people, his awareness of his
identity became more and more clear. There was always a mutual comprehension between Jesus
and his Father.
16. This is not just about Jesus, by the way. Jesus clearly had a mission and it was to make known
the Kingdom. From the start Jesus wanted to propose the kingdom to the people. He had to face
too the freedom of the people—the people had the choice to accept or to reject his proposal of the
kingdom. This meant ignorance on the part of Jesus. It was an ignorance that had full respect of
the liberty and freedom of people’s choice. If Jesus “knew everything” he could not have been
respecting people’s choice—accept or reject the message of the kingdom.
17. The reflections of theologians like Rahner are not to avoid the divinity of Jesus. (Medieval
theologians preferred to emphasize a lot the divinity.) The point is to realize the mystery of the
humanity of Jesus in full respect of the Chalcedon council.
1. Is miracle an imaginative story? Is it a myth? A modern mind may have difficulties accepting a miracle of Jesus in the gospels. Of course modernity is marked by science and technology. So how can miracle fit in science and technology?
2. At the time of Jesus a miracle meant something different from a modern view. Let us look at St. Paul: “And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory” (1Cor 15/37-41). The grain becomes a plant and then a tree; there is transformation. God is the author of the transformation. God is behind what is happening. The sun, moon, starts, the human being…God is behind these all.
3. God is like a musician who makes music from his…guitar…. “Behind” the music is a musician. The music is an expression—a SIGN—of the musician’s creativity. So when we say “miracle” during that time, we have to consider the sign. A miracle is a sign from God.
4. If something unusual happens, it is understood as sign. It has the value of a message. So, during the time of Jesus, attention was focused more on what God might be saying in an event…focused less on the event itself.
5. Over the centuries theologians have been thinking in the same way. But now comes modernity. Modernity likes science and technology a lot. The modern view of the world is in terms of “laws of nature”. Everything is explained by citing laws of nature. Can there be a “miracle” for the modern mind?
6. Ok, a modern person does not have to give up God. But modernity has a way of looking at a miracle as a transgression of a law of nature. If there is a miracle, it means that God has to break a law of nature. So for modernity a miracle is an event that goes against the law of nature. It is opposed to nature. It is opposed to what science can say. Science is therefore surprised at a miracle.
7. There is a problem here, however. If we say every time a miracle happens the laws of nature are transgressed, then it means we know all of the laws of nature. It means we have understood everything in nature already. But science is still evolving and changing. Science does not claim to have complete knowledge of nature.
8. From a theological point of view, modern understanding refuses to accept God as God. Why? If God must do a miracle, says modernity, he has to oppose nature. So God is still in need of “permission” from nature.
9. Also, if we say that a miracle breaks nature, it means we can say when a miracle is really happening. We can say that, at this point, nature is not working and miracle is at work. Sometimes this attitude is found in a doctor who says to a hopeless patient, “It is a miracle”. The patient is sick, there is no more solution. Suddenly, the next day, that person is ok…no more illness. “It is a miracle”.
10. Did the doctor see how it really happened? No, because it is “outside” the scope of nature—and outside the scope of medical science. How can the doctor say it is a miracle if, as a doctor, the event is not in science? Maybe the doctor is now talking not as a scientist but as a “believer”. While staying in the scope of medical science, the doctor is correct to say: “As far as medical science allows, your healing cannot be explained”. If the doctor says, “Ah, it is a miracle”, the doctor steps out of medical science to become a believer. The doctor speaks as a believer.
11. So must a miracle really transgress nature? Maybe it is possible that God uses nature—he orients nature to do a miracle. We are not sure of what exactly is happening in nature as God orients it…so we have to be prudent.
12. If someone says that the whole universe is governed by laws of nature, this is a philosophy. It is not exactly science anymore. It makes a presupposition that everything is conditioned by laws of nature. So what happens to a mineral happens to a living creature, like a plant. Then what happens to a living plant happens to an animal. Etc. Let us see how Karl Rahner would respond to this.
13. He says that we cannot conclude that the “higher” is a result of the “lower”. For example, biological life is "higher than" the mineral. Thinking is "higher than" biological life. But biological life is not accounted for by the mineral. Thinking is not accounted for by the biological life. The domain of human freedom and thinking, for example, is not in the domain of the biological. When cells and genes move, they do not do it as thinking and reasoning and acting out freely. (Do you understand? We shall discuss this in class). In fact, according to Rahner, the presence of the “higher” is miraculous. Miracle is in the non-deductibility of the "higher" from the "lower". (Do you understand? We shall discuss this in class).
14. If we try to use science in interpreting an event that is extraordinary, we still need prudence. There is no absolute certainty that it is a miracle. There is something in nature that we have not seen. We cannot conclude that there is a miracle. So when we see something happening—and it is extraordinary—we may conclude that it is a “miracle”. But we say it out of faith.
15. To recognize a miracle, again in faith, is to see the event in its context. This context is the kingdom. A miracle is a sign of the kingdom. We say this in faith—not in scientific thinking. A miracle is a “speaking gesture” (Sesboue). It is a sign—it is speaking to us. So we must be careful and prudent to make a scientific conclusion and say what God has actually done with nature. No. How God acts and intervenes may stay mysterious to us.
16. If we appreciate the ancient people during the time of Jesus, we might even see the ordinary as miraculous already. If all that happens in nature is sign of God’s will and plan, then even the more extraordinary is “ordinary” in God. The ordinary events too—like the rising of the sun—can be miraculous.
From Karl Rahner’s “Foundations of Christian Faith”: On Miracles
1. Jesus was known as a miracle-worker. Rahner asks: what is the significance of the miracles for our faith? A proper understanding of miracles means that miracles be seen as signs which reveal a particular truth and the signs are addressed to us.
2. It may be true to say that miracles interrupt the so-called laws of nature. But it would be better to say that we do not fully understand these “laws”. The laws of material reality and biology are integrated into the spiritual in ways we do not fully understand. A better understanding of miracles regards them as material signs of an experience that would be better described as spiritual. So when something happens, it is also important to look at the spiritual receptivity of the witness.
3. Miracles, according to Rahner, are a “call” from God. The call may come through wonders. It may also come through the most ordinary means. It is a call that invites faith. For Rahner, the greatest miracle is the resurrection. It is the foundation of our faith.
4. Again, Jesus was a miracle worker. Rahner would say that Jesus saw in his miracles a sign that a new closeness to God’s kingdom was being brought about in his person.
5. Miracles, said Rahner, are not outside the reality speak about. They confirm the reality. A miracle, says Rahner, is dependent on what it is supposed to show. Each miracle of Jesus shows an aspect of God’s saving activity. Finally, miracles are addressed to a person—like to us.
6. Rahner admits that miracles can be interruptions in the laws of nature, if by that we mean that God exists in sovereign freedom and omnipotence. No “laws” can bind God.
7. But problems arise here. It is hard to show that the laws of nature have been suspended. If we can really show, then we have already perfectly understood everything in nature. This is not the case. Science is still an evolving discipline. So Rahner asks: can we talk about miracles without the idea of suspending the laws of nature? Can we?
8. Rahner thinks we can. First, he says, we must admit that we do not know all the laws of nature. We do not completely understand them. We are accustomed to think that the laws of nature govern the "lower dimensions" of matter and biology. We assume that the "higher dimensions" of freedom and thought are different. But Rahner states that there is no break between the lower and the higher.
9. Matter and biology are united with freedom and thought. They are "open to" each other. The lower dimensions can be included into freedom and thought. And when that happens, the lower dimensions are not changed but expanded.
10. The world of matter and biology can reveal the world of freedom, history, and thought. The "lower" is integrated with the "higher," and does not thereby lose its own laws and structure. Moreover, the meaning of our freedom and thinking cannot be derived from the material and the biological. Human spirit takes the material and biological into its service.
Miracles in the Gospels
1. It would be hard to explain why the gospels were written if Jesus never did miracles. From the start of preaching about Jesus, early Christians would insist that he was truly a healer. For example: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know…” (Act2/22). “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; … he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Act10/38).
2. Jesus really had the reputation of being a healer. All historians studying him will agree to this. There was something historically happening to which the gospel authors referred. Looking at the different miracle stories, many of them were really historical. Experts are unanimous on this. Of course, because of the “retrospection” that we discussed before, there were “exaggerations” in some stories. There must have been a theological reason for doing this. Miracle stories affirm the salvation brought by Jesus. It is very important to look into each miracle story to extract this theological view.
3. The life of Jesus was not a life of a magician. Jesus did not do miracles to entertain…or just for the heck of it. In fact, compared to Jewish and Greek stories of miracle stories, the accounts about the miracles of Jesus are less spectacular.
4. Jesus never did miracles for his own profit. He would even consider the people involved—the people he encountered. How would they receive his gestures. At times Jesus never did miracles when the faith of others was absent. Jesus did not allow himself to fall in the trap of others.
5. There are many types of miracle stories—we do not have the time to look into all of them. Let us just mention: exorcism, healing, miracles with nature. What we can discuss is the meaning of all the miracles. Let us not forget that a miracle is a sign. Since the gospels were written in the light of Easter, miracles were written as “memory aids” to show that the life of Jesus was a work of salvation. By miracles Jesus was already saving.
6. Miracles are also messianic signs of salvation. They are always linked to the Kingdom. The people have been expecting something—a liberation. Miracles show the accomplishment of expectations done by Jesus.
7. The Kingdom is “at hand”. A “new creation” has been inaugurated. Miracles are signs of this renewal. St. Paul expressed it well: “Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom.8/21).
8. The Kingdom, however, is never separated from the person of Jesus. Miracles therefore are works of Jesus, Son of God. Miracles reveal who Jesus is.
9. Miracles are not abstract signs—they have a content. They have a very concrete content: the human body. Miracles declare what is the destiny of the human body: we are to be entirely renewed and glorified. Of course this will be better understood in the light of the resurrection.
10. Miracles and faith are related. Jesus, in doing a miracle, would often pray to the Father. So a miracle would reveal the faith of Jesus. What about others—like us? Miracles have two ways of linking with our faith. First, we need faith to recognize a miracle. “Your faith has saved you”, Jesus would often say. Miracles, also, deepen our faith. They can lead to faith too! The point here is that miracles are done in the face of human freedom to accept or not accept believing in the saving gestures of Jesus. Hence miracles are really signs and not just proofs.