Recently I watched a program on PBS about Jesus. It was meant to be a fresh, more ‘scientific’ understanding of the itinerant Palestinian peasant who became the most famous person in history. The narrator spoke about this mysterious man as a founder of a ‘religion’.
The talking heads of theologians, archeologists, linguists and Biblical scholars kept interrupting the narration with wise and often interesting comments to help us understand who this man Jesus was.
When I got to the end of the program, I just said to myself: “So what?”
The well-intentioned programmers forgot one tiny fact: only Faith can unlock the amazing story of Jesus. In approaching the Gospels merely from the day-to-day ordinary reality of the time, it explained some things but did not get to the heart of the mystery of Christ.
It certainly did not even get near the reason why this ‘movement’ (as they anachronistically called it) that was led by illiterate laborers and was ferociously persecuted for three centuries, became the largest religion on earth. Nor why It spawned what we call ‘The West’ whose very existence changed all of human history and is still the dominant Weltanschauung (a particular philosophy or view of life; the worldview of an individual or group) of the planet Earth (apologies to the runners up!).
How did this happen? Could it be that Holy Spirit has been leading this ‘movement’? Could it be that Jesus is (present tense!) more than a mere mortal? Could it be that to approach this mystery, it is imperative that you remove the sandals from your feet because you are on holy ground?
When I went into the Major Seminary in 1972, the historical critical method in Biblical Studies was all the rage. We started studying the Bible as though we were involved in rigorous scientific research. When we studied a book of the Bible, say for instance the Gospel of St. John, we would study the text from the linguistic point to view. Then we would study the archeological finds regarding it. We would study the literary forms that the evangelist used. Borrowing from the German theologians, we would study the ‘Form Geschichte’ (what other writing it is similar to and what literary forms were being used); then we studied the ‘Redaktion Geschichte’ which tried to understand how the different traditions were edited and redacted together.
Needless to say, it was very rigorous and scientific, but essentially closed to Faith. You could very easily study the Gospel of St. John and not believe a word of it. There were, however, great theologians like Hans Urs Von Balthazar who called for a ‘kneeling theology’, meaning that any theology worth its weight should lead you to prayer and that it should nourish a believer and a faith community.
We have a different type of evasion of Faith as we commercialize things and make of holy things types of entertainment. An example of this is what we have done to Christmas. It started out as the feast of ‘CHRIST MASS’ celebrating the wild belief that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became incarnate. It ends up as a feel-good experience of sharing and gift-giving with Santa and Rudolph and tinsel and the Drummer Boy. How
did that happen?
You see a similar de-sacralization throughout Europe where magnificent Churches are kept like museums with entrance fees, headsets, etc. Usually, you have to ask someone if there is a corner of the Church where you can pray. There often is, but almost always it’s empty to the naked, secular eye; except for the Real Presence of Christ Himself.
In other places, the Church has been turned into a concert hall where the wonderful acoustics are exploited for profit.
As you wander through these places, you wonder whether you are the crazy one expecting to ‘pray’ in a church instead of following your guide book and checking one more place off as ‘saw it’!
One day I was with my sabbatical community in Israel listening to a lecture given in the house where Peter lived in Galilee which is now a church. As the speaker droned on, I caught sight of the tabernacle that was in a corner, totally ignored by all of us including myself. I quietly walked over to it and began to pray to Jesus. Why talk about Him when you could talk with Him?
Jesus was not just another nice guy that you can study, relegated to the history books. He is Lord and Savior. And that distinction makes all the difference in the world.