Monday, December 5, 2016

What does (and what can) scripture really tell us about Jesus? (Part 1)

A couple of months ago, a close friend of mine told me about a special program on Jesus that was due to air on (as I recall) CNN. I told him I was not that interested, and I was too busy at the time to devote attention to it. He tried to convince me that it was worth my attention and I would probably be interested, etc., etc.
The event reminded me of the hoax about finding the grave of James, the brother of Jesus from a couple of years back and the rage over Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code from about a dozen years back. In each case, people got very excited about "new facts" or "new theories". None of that interested me very much, because I had already seen how pathetic most contemporary studies of Jesus were.
It's not that there haven't been serious studies of the historical background of Jesus, or serious efforts to uncover documentary evidence of the life of Jesus apart from the bible, or even interesting and suggestive archaeological discoveries. Finding the really meaty stuff among the contemporary weeds, however, is no easy task. The problem is not that modern and post modern society has not devoted enough attention to who Jesus is, really, the problem is that too many people who have no credible claim to a connection with the subject matter have beclouded the discussion. You can find the wheat, but you have to first clear away the weeds, and the weeds in our contemporary secular world, have overrun the landscape.
It is for this very reason that Pope, Emeritus, Benedict XVI wrote his landmark three volume study, Jesus of Nazareth. In the Forward to his first volume, From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, he noted in a discussion of historical scholarship beginning in the 1950s,
The gap between the "historical Jesus" and the "Christ of faith" grew wider and the two visibly fell apart. But what can faith in Jesus as the Christ possibly mean, in Jesus as the Son of the living God, if the man Jesus was so completely different from the picture that the Evangelists painted of him and that the Church, on the evidence of the Gospels, takes as the basis of her preaching? [See the first page of the Forward.]
As an example of this "falling apart" phenomenon, the efforts of the so-called "Jesus Seminar" of the 1980s and 90s to uncover the "actual sayings of Jesus" (which they termed the ipsissima verba) ran into insuperable methodological difficulties. They could not develop a consensus except on a rather minimalist "lowest common denominator."
Our Pope Emeritus points to two things that can help to put back together what has been rent asunder through the workings of academic ambition. They are (1) the underlying unity of scripture, both Old and New Testament, as revealed in the tradition of interpretation, and (2) exposing the limitations of the historical, critical method, particularly as it has been practiced over the decades. These are deep matters, and I will treat them in the next post.

Your partner in the journey for the truth,
Fr. Larry Gearhart