Posts tagged ‘Jesus’

November 3, 2013

recognizable and transfigured

Christianity is a paradoxical religion because the Jew of Nazareth is a paradoxical character. No figure in history or fiction contains as many multitudes as the New Testament’s Jesus. He’s a celibate ascetic who enjoys dining with publicans and changing water into wine at weddings. He’s an apocalyptic prophet one moment, a wise ethicist the next. He’s a fierce critic of Jewish religious law who insists that he’s actually fulfilling rather than subverting it. He preaches a reversal of every social hierarchy while deliberately avoiding explicitly political claims. He promises to set parents against children and then disallows divorce; he consorts with prostitutes while denouncing even lustful thoughts. He makes wild claims about his own relationship to God, and perhaps his own divinity, without displaying any of the usual signs of megalomania or madness. He can be egalitarian and hierarchical, gentle and impatient, extraordinarily charitable and extraordinarily judgmental. He sets impossible standards and then forgives the worst of sinners. He blesses the peacemakers and then promises that he’s brought not peace but the sword. He’s superhuman one moment; the next he’s weeping. And of course the accounts of his resurrection only heighten these paradoxes, by introducing a post-crucifixion Jesus who is somehow neither a resuscitated body nor a flitting ghost but something even stranger still—a being at once fleshly and supernatural, recognizable and transfigured, bearing the wounds of the crucifixion even as he passes easily through walls. The boast of Christian orthodoxy, as codified by the councils of the early Church and expounded in the Creeds, has always been its fidelity to the whole of Jesus. Its dogmas and definitions seek to encompass the seeming contradictions in the gospel narratives rather than evading them. Was he God or was he man? Both, says orthodoxy.

From Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat.

October 20, 2013

all of Christian doctrine is rooted

And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, he expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25–27) The meaning of these Scriptures has been a preoccupation of Luke’s gospel from the start. It was the burden of Jesus’ first sermon at the synagogue in Nazareth. It was the subject of his conversation with Moses and Elijah on the mount of the Transfiguration. In the present scene, Jesus feigns ignorance precisely with a view to teaching these two disciples—and through them, all Christians to the end of time—his own understanding of the biblical text. All of Christian doctrine is rooted, I believe, in Jesus’ Paschal discourse to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. The timing of that discourse is likewise significant, for it took place on the very day of his rising from the dead; on that day “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David,” demonstrated that he “was worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals.”

From The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon.

October 20, 2013

his long-established pessimism was about to be shaken

“Rabbi,” they answered, “lately the Jews sought to stone you, and are you going there again?” It was Thomas who accepted the tragedy of the thing: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:8, 16). Thomas may also have been something of a loner, which would explain why, when the risen Lord paid his first visit to the assembled apostles, Thomas “was not with them when Jesus came” (20:24). One speculates that he may have gone off to get a better grip on himself. It had been a very tough week, after all. Just as Thomas had suspected it would, Jesus’ life ended in tragedy. This, the apostle was sure, was the biggest tragedy he had ever seen. Yet he was coping with it, somehow. Years of an inner docility to inevitable fate had schooled him in the discipline of endurance. Yes, he would get through this too. He was a man who could deal with misfortune and sorrow. Just don’t disturb Thomas with hope.

Thomas sensed that his long-established pessimism was about to be shaken. He rose and faced the entering light. He saw the familiar face and recognized the familiar voice: “Peace to you!” We do not know if Thomas felt, at that moment, some urge to hide behind the other apostles. He was not given the chance. Turning to Thomas, the risen Jesus fully appreciated the irony of the hour. Nor would we be wrong, I think, to imagine a smile coming over the glorious face of the one who said to his beloved pessimist: “Reach your finger here, and inspect my hands; and reach your hand here, and place it into my side.”

From The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon.

October 12, 2013

the personally transforming power of this prayer

The scene of Jesus praying in the garden, on the night before his death, is among the most disturbing presentations among the gospel narratives. Specifically, Jesus’ immense sadness and personal distress seem much out of character with what the gospel stories—up to this point—would lead the reader to expect. What has become of the serenity and self-assurance that tells the leper, “I will it; be cleansed” (Matthew 8:3)? Where now is the confidence that announces to the centurion, “I will come and heal him” (8:7), or commands the wind and sea, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39)? In short, the image of Jesus in the garden stands in stark contrast to the picture we have of him from all prior scenes in his life. From very early times, pagans themselves were quick to notice in the agony what they took to be an inconsistency with Christian belief in the divinity of Christ. Late in the second century, when the critic Celsus wrote the first formal treatise against the Christian faith, he cited Jesus’ fear and discomposure in the garden as evidence against the doctrine of his divinity. Celsus inquired, “Why does [Jesus] shriek and lament and pray to escape the fear of destruction, speaking thus: ‘Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me’?”

…Even as we reject that critic’s conclusion, we are obliged to recognize its force. That is to say, the fullness of Jesus’ humanity was most manifest in the event described in the epistle to the Hebrews as “the days of his flesh” (5:7). In the Savior’s agony, believers perceive the most profound and disturbing inferences of the doctrine of the Incarnation—the “enfleshing” of God’s Son. More than anywhere else in the New Testament, the garden scene presents us with the phenomenon of frailty and conflict in the mind and heart, as Jesus struggles with the trauma of his impending Passion. Indeed, he speaks of this conflict in terms of spirit and flesh. It is during—and with respect to—his experience in the garden that he declares, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). To be in the flesh is to feel weak. He knew whereof he spoke! Whether the conflict is portrayed in terms of sorrow (Matthew and Mark) or of fear (Luke and Hebrews), the New Testament sources agree that Jesus did not want to suffer and die this painful and most ignominious death, and he prayed to be delivered from it.

…Here, above all, we are presented with the profound mystery of self-emptying that the apostle Paul called “the weakness of God.” Each account of the agony likewise demonstrates, nonetheless, how “the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25). The inner conflict described in the New Testament was based on an opposition between the powerful psychological disposition of Jesus—his desire to live!—and what he perceived to be the will and call of God. The two options were mutually exclusive. Luke calls the experience a “struggle,” an agonia. In this scene, according to all four sources, Jesus’ intense psychological experience of weakness and turmoil was followed by a determined resolution, which is perhaps the most significant element in the story. Jesus was clearly stronger and more serene when he left the garden, even though his captors had forcefully bound him.

…His final statement to the Sanhedrin was both solemn and self-assured. No less dignified and confident were his few pronouncements to Pilate, and he honored Herod’s curiosity with not a single syllable (Luke 23:9). In all these cases, Jesus acted with a dignity beyond his tormentors’ reach. This renewed strength, moreover, was conveyed to Jesus through his experience of prayer. According to all four accounts of the event, it was in prayer that Jesus resolved the conflict in his soul. In fact, each writer goes into some detail to describe this prayer and the transforming resolution to which it led. We recognize, in short, that Jesus’ prayer in the garden—his prayerful acquiescence in the Father’s will—strengthened him for the dreadful ordeal to come. The Passion story testifies to the personally transforming power of this prayer.

…Only Peter, James, and John were permitted entrance into the chamber where Jesus confronted and conquered the power of death in the person of Jairus’s daughter.6 These three, likewise, were the sole witnesses to Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain. Over the centuries, Christian homiletics and hymnography have copiously testified to a common Christian persuasion on this point: Peter, James, and John received these special revelations of Jesus’ innate glory and his sovereign power over death, in order to be strengthened to endure the sight of his agony in the garden. We do well to consider the element of “planning” in this matter because the preservation of this story was neither a decree of fate nor an accident of circumstances. It was entirely deliberate. Jesus could certainly have suffered this agony in solitary privacy, but he determined that there would be witnesses to it—close enough to behold the scene—because he wanted this scene to be recorded!

…It is important to reflect that we are acquainted with the failure of these apostles because they were the ones who testified to it. Their failure was part of the story, and they recognized it as such. Consequently, when they later narrated to others the events of that night, they made sure not to omit the account of Jesus’ disappointment with them. Indeed, they failed the Savior. Had Jesus seen the three of them steady at prayer, supporting him in his time of fear and sorrow, his spirit—like any human spirit at such a time—would have been strengthened. Thus, an added component of his trauma that night was the loss of human encouragement from those witnesses, who should have supplied it. He knew these men well enough, nonetheless. Earlier in the evening, had he not told them, “All of you will be tripped up tonight” (Matthew 26:31)?

…The epistle to the Hebrews—which may be our earliest written reference to the agony—let us begin with this account. It is the shortest, speaking only of Jesus, who, in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save him from death, and was heard because of his godly fear, though he were a Son, yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered. (Hebrews 5:7–8) This terrible scene took place, says Hebrews, “in the days of his flesh.” The “flesh” here refers not to the Incarnation as such (because the Word’s assumption of our humanity is permanent, not temporary), but to the condition of human weakness, which God’s Son willingly assumed so “that through death he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). This is a major argument in the epistle to the Hebrews. The author of this work speaks of Jesus’ death not just as an objective and clinical fact but as a matter of experience; he employs the metaphor of taste.

…According to Hebrews, then, God’s Son assumed, not simply human nature, but the existential burden of human experience. His was to be a full and felt solidarity, in which “he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying: ‘I will declare Your name to my brothers’” (Hebrews 2:11–12). For this reason, declares Hebrews, “in all things he had to be made like the brothers” (2:17). These “all things” particularly included the tasting of death.

…This obedience of Jesus was not theoretical, detached, or instantaneous. He learned it through the actual process of suffering and dying. Jesus was inwardly changed through this experience, thereby becoming “perfected” (Hebrews 5:9). He was “made perfect through sufferings” (2:10).

…The early believers easily perceived that whereas the first man attempted, in rebellion, to become God’s equal, the second, being in the form of God, did not regard being equal to God a usurpation [harpagmos], but he emptied himself, taking the form of a bondservant, being made in the likeness of men, and being found in shape as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death. (Philippians 2:6–8) It is important to bear in mind the traditional contrast between the obedient Jesus and the disobedient Adam when we come to the Gospel accounts of the Savior’s struggle at “Gethsemani.”12 The very name of this place means “olive garden,” abbreviated to simply “a garden” by John (18:1).

…This petition—“Thy will be done”—does not represent a hypothesis or a limitation laid on the prayer. “What You will” is not a restriction of Jesus’ confidence but an elevation of it. It expresses a constitutive feature of his prayer and an essential component of his faith. The real purpose of the Son’s prayer, after all, is not to inform the Father what he wants but to hand himself over more completely, in faith, to what the Father wants. The purpose of all prayer, even the prayer of petition, is living communion with God. The man who tells the Father, then, “Thy will be done,” does not thereby show himself a weaker believer but a stronger one. Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith,” models this prayer. He gives his disciples, in this form, the very essence of true prayer. The “will of God,” in which Jesus places the trust of his petition, is not a blind, arbitrary, or predetermined will. It is, rather, the abiding love of the Father. This theology of prayer is conveyed in Jesus’ prayer in the garden, by which his own human will is obediently united with the will of God.

…First, the sweat of blood is a condition called hematidrosis. This pathology, which results from an extreme dilation of the subcutaneous capillaries, causes them to burst through the sweat glands. This symptom, mentioned as early as Aristotle,19 is well-known to the history of medicine, which sometimes associates it with intense fear. It is not without interest, surely, that Luke, the only Evangelist to mention this phenomenon, was a physician.

…The theological significance of this feature in Luke is that Jesus’ internal conflict causes the first bloodshed in the Passion. His complete obedience to the Father in his prayer immediately produces this initial libation of his redemptive blood, the blood of which he had proclaimed just shortly before, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). Prior to the appearance of his betrayer, then, Jesus already begins the shedding of his blood. He pours it out in the struggle of obedience, before a single hand has been laid upon him. In Luke’s account the agony in the garden is not a prelude to the Passion but its very commencement, because Jesus’ stern determination to accomplish the Father’s will causes his blood to flow—already—as the price for man’s redemption.

From The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon. Also see this poem and this quote.

October 12, 2013

completely preoccupied with the Father

It is obvious that Jesus, during the supper, was completely preoccupied with the Father. When, at an early age, he had dedicated his life to “the things of my Father,” that dedication became the foundation of everything he did. This zeal for God was now about to consume him, and the flame of it became more intense as the hour drew near: Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come that he should depart from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the extreme. (John 13:1) Jesus, knowing “that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God” (John 13:3), could not stop speaking of the Father. This word is heard from his lips twenty-one times in John 14, ten times in John 15, twelve times in John 16, and, always in direct address, six times in John 17.

From The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon.

October 12, 2013

homicidal craziness abounding in Jerusalem

Jesus’ enemies so thoroughly “lost it” at this time that they “plotted to put Lazarus to death also” (John 12:10). With such homicidal craziness abounding in Jerusalem, Jesus determined to stay away until the week before Passover. He lodged with friends in the suburbs (John 11:54–57). When he finally did enter Jerusalem, Jesus was careful to do so in the safety of numbers. His entrance, which took on the character of a triumphant march, was virtually a challenge.

From The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon.

October 12, 2013

surely his special channel of information

Joanna, whom Luke is the only Evangelist to mention by name, was surely his special channel of information that only he, among the Evangelists, seems to have had [about Jesus’ trial before Herod Antipas]. Married to a well-placed political figure in the Galilean court, Joanna was apparently a lady of some means, who used her resources to provide for the traveling ministry of Jesus and the apostles. Acting in this capacity, she must have been very well-known among the earliest Christians. Only Luke, however, speaks of her by name, a fact that seems to indicate that he had interviewed her in the composition of his gospel. We can guess that Joanna’s adherence to Jesus was not without its difficulties for her domestic life. Here she was, the wife of a high political official, providing support for someone who would die as a political criminal. Her loyalty was supremely rewarded, however, because the risen Lord saw fit to number Joanna among the holy myrrh-bearers, those surprised women who “came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared,” found the stone rolled away from the tomb, then prostrated before the two herald angels of the Pascha, and subsequently “told these things to the apostles” (Luke 24:1, 5–7, 10). One suspects that Joanna also had a thing or two to tell her husband, Chuza, later that day.

From The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon.

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October 9, 2013

Jesus admits that this woman has bested him

This woman, however, just will not give up: “Then she came and prostrated before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!’” (Matthew 15:25). The scene is becoming embarrassing. Can things get worse? Yes, they can—and do: “But he answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the puppies.’” Oh, my! Is Jesus calling this Gentile a dog? No wonder the gospel of Luke does not relate this story! Then, all of a sudden, the story changes, and it is the woman who changes it. Like Jesus’ mother at Cana, she gets pushy with the Savior: “Yes, Lord,” she responds, “yet even the puppies eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” In the end, of course, “her daughter was healed from that very hour” (Matthew 15:28), but the reader may be left with the feeling that the whole transaction was excessively painful and that Jesus, at least for a while, was acting terribly out of character. What should be said about this? Not for a moment do I believe Jesus was insulting this woman. Once again, I take his silence and then his reference to puppies as a rhetorical pretense, very much like his request that the Samaritan woman should summon her husband.

…A friend of mine once compared this lady’s faith to that of Abraham, as he “haggled a price” with God over the fate of Sodom. That is to say, rhetorical considerations provide the key to the conversation between Jesus and this Gentile woman. Perhaps this point is more clearly expressed in Mark’s version of the story, where she is known as “a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth” (Mark 7:26). In Mark’s account, the woman is praised not for her faith but for her “word”—her manner of expression: dia touton ton logon. Jesus admits that this woman has bested him in the conversation! He tells her, in effect, “Ma’am, you certainly have a way with words.” Jesus recognizes the good logic and superior style in which the woman humbly asserts, “Even the puppies under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.” The lady is not only persistent; she is also eloquent. And Jesus is . . . well, impressed!

From The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon.

September 23, 2013

subtlety and obedience

The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon (excerpts from chapter 5):

By the time the four gospels were composed, it is safe to say that probably nobody was certain of the actual sequence of all the events in Jesus’ life. It was not thought to be important. Other considerations, consequently, determined the order in which these stories were handed down in the church’s catechesis (based on the apostles’ preaching) and later recorded (in the four gospels).

…When the Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism, something changed. It was an event, with a before and after. Of course, Jesus already was conscious of himself as God’s Son (cf. Luke 2:49), but this new experience at his baptism was decisive; it created, in his life, a then and now. He grew, he increased, through this experience; and, when he went through it, his family and friends recognized that something truly unique had happened to him. Indeed, they were disturbed by his new behavior.

…No one else in the world could read the prophecy as Jesus did, claiming complete and internal ownership of it. Luke implies that his hearers in the synagogue sensed the difference, inasmuch as “the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on him.”

…Like the preceding sign, this one involves no physical contact by Jesus. But we do detect another common trait appearing in both signs; namely, obedience to a command: “Fill the water jars with water” (John 2:7) and “Go your way” (4:50). Disobedience to these commands, we presume, would mean no miracle! Exactly the same traits—subtlety and obedience to command—characterize the third sign described by John, the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda.

September 17, 2013

a light and jocund side of Jesus’ relationship

The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon (excerpts from chapter 3):

When it became clear that Jesus would be completely rejected by official Judaism, he began to lay the foundation of a new community, a remnant qahal or “congregation” (in Greek, ekklesia), united in the foundational confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16–18). When the new community, based on this confession, began to take shape, Jesus provided organizational leadership for it. After a night spent praying about this development, the Savior appointed twelve of these men—commonly called “those sent,” or apostles—to be the patriarchal foundation stones of the new congregation (Revelation 21:14).

…A somewhat closer look at the gospel texts also reveals, I think, how Jesus related to these original disciples—even from the beginning—as “individuals,” as particular men. He does not permit their specific identities to become lost in the group. Philip, Andrew, Thomas, and the others preserve their individual characters. Observe, for instance, how he teases them. Jesus’ irony toward Nathaniel is a perfect example of this. [John 1:45-47]

…What shall we say of the nickname Jesus gave to the two sons of Zebedee: James and John? He called them “sons of thunder,” which in our modern idiom would be “hotheads.” One suspects the brothers received this moniker because of an incident recorded by Luke: And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for him. But they did not receive him, because his face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” (Luke 9:52–54)

…Luke relished the irony of it: John bar Zebedee had wanted fire from heaven to fall on the Samaritans. He got his wish! The church at Jerusalem sent him—when the time was right—as one of its delegates to call down on the Samaritans the true fire from heaven—the Holy Spirit.

…Peter, when he felt enthusiastic, imagined himself invincible, but he fell miserably when his enthusiasm waned. He readily mistook a rush of adrenaline for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit—a confusion rather common among individuals with too much adrenaline. Rock? Jesus surely recognized the name’s improbability in Peter’s case. The only time this “Rock Johnson” showed any rocklike quality was on that memorable occasion when he attempted to walk on water! In all these instances, we perceive a light and jocund side of Jesus’ relationship with these men, whom he chose “that they might be with Him” (Mark 3:14). With these disciples, Jesus carried himself as a man among men, to whom he was bound by the sorts of habits, attitudes, and discourse in which most normal men establish friendships and maintain loyalties.

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