Saturday, August 29, 2009
'I am the Way ..." Jesus said ...
Question for my seminary-educated buds:
John, the latest Gospel, is full of "I am" sayings echoing YHWH's declaration "I am" in Exodus, correct? The author of John presents the highest christology of the four Gospels, equating Jesus of Nazareth with God God's self(s) from 1:1, correct?
Mark, on the other hand, the earliest Gospel, depicts Jesus as more Son of Man than Son of God, correct? Mark has Jesus actually sort of distancing himself from God in one instance: "Why callest thou me good? No one is good but one, that is God," correct?
My own close reading of several versions of Mark, and Matthew, as I retell the Gospels in the chicken-fried vernacular, makes it clear to me that Jesus is depicted as talking about an ethic, a way of life, as being the first meaning of "the kingdom of God is at hand," not an intellectual agreement, or any kind of bargain, with God.
In other words: Change your ways, come with me, trust me I know what I'm doing because I am so close to the Father -- that was the gist of what Jesus had to say,
My question, finally: Might it be that Jesus was saying "I HAVE the way," or, "I'm ON the way," which evolved into "I AM the Way. No man comes to the Father but by me"? The difference is huge.
This is a big deal and one that will require you to dig even deeper into your belief and faith, but that is one of the purposes of the seminary.
This may not be the time or place for this post and feel free to delete it. I will not be offended.
I tend to think that what Jesus had to say about God is more important than what the church has said about Jesus. ...
I think the exclusivity that the church, and churches, have imposed on what Jesus was all about, well, has been IMPOSED on what Jesus said and the example he left.
Peter eventually got it: "Now I am certain that God treats all people alike. God is pleased with everyone who worships him and does right, no matter what nation they come from. This is the same message that God gave to the people of Israel, when he sent Jesus Christ, the Lord of all, to offer peace to them." (Acts: 10: 34-36)
What's that? Love God. Love neighbor as yourself. And, so what if that wasn't original with him? That's the Way: Selflessness, and trust in God.
Now, Acts goes on to have Peter saying that all who have "faith in Jesus" will have their sins forgiven in his name. OK. If I have trust that Jesus was right about what said about how to live, that's faith in Jesus, isn't it? And, it's not as clearly exclusive as people think it is. It does not say that all who do NOT have faith in Jesus will NOT have their sins forgiven; it says all who DO have faith in Jesus WILL have their sins forgiven in his name. Different things. (And, of course, this is just my reading of an English translation without any deep consideration of the time, the place, the original audience of Acts.)
Anyhoo Yoy can find assertions of exclusivity, as well as inclusivity, in Scripture. That being the case, I'm going with inclusivity.
It is my position that when we read the Gospels, we are already reading what the church is saying about the Godhead and Jesus both to themselves and to their neighbors.
It is already too late to dig out a recording of what Jesus says that has anywhere near enough material with sustained integration and sustained development of connected ideas to believe one can compose a theological scaffold that can be called original to the man himself.
What we have in the Gospels are compositions by the best and brightest that are efforts to elicit and deepen faith -- and for from a motivation to reliably inform the dispassionate reader about events.
The Gospels are sermons, elaborate and theologically complex sermons coming out of the best preachers who sit in the context of specific communities and parochial experiences as Christians in their locale (meaning there is little awareness of addressing the entirety of the known world, much less a stretch of expected eons).
As for the Gospel of Mark, the author presents Jesus with an elaborately developed literary trope of "secrecy." When one reads through the book looking for just this trope, one can find nearly two dozen instances in just over a dozen chapters. The title of "Son of Man," while conveying multiple meanings, also serves the author in presenting Jesus as withholding the clear Truth in order to deepen the effect of questioning the hearer/reader as to what decision he or she will make concerning this man. Is he the promised Messiah? He will never say it because it means nothing to one's faith if Jesus comes out with it or not.
The question of faith, in Mark, is being actively asked in the very narrative. This is all to the purpose of the author and operates for reasons drawn from the author's existential conditions and that of his/her community, wherever that may have been.
It is the author who shapes the narrative so that we see Jesus restraining the disciples and himself from telling the people at large what they themselves hold to be true. And the secret becomes a way in which he trains the disciples as well.
This is narrative serving as great and extended preaching: meant not to be reportage... but active and haunting persuasion in order to implant and switch on the question inside the hearer/reader:
What do you believe about this man?
In John, surely coming later than Mark, surely written elsewhere with else-wise concerns, the church has gone through few more decades and the figure of Jesus as the Christ has acquired a more central, more authoritative aura and reverence. He can no longer be hidden, even in narrative; he is now become known and identified as the Word which was and is and ever shall be. It would be unseemly to keep the secrecy trope, though there are still vestiges of the way the figure in the narrative challenges the hearer's faith.
The question no longer is whether we are the lucky few who can get in on the secret, the question we are asked now is whether the answer to the secret really works and, if it is to work, how would it work? The writer of John clearly says that love is the key to it all.
The church, at least where the author of John has travelled and lives and writes from knows Jesus the man as inescapably also the Christ. The role of the incarnation in understanding God's love has been reflected on for such a length of time that an understanding of Jesus Christ is almost now a completely synthesized notion of his nature as both God and man, whereas, perhaps, in the time Mark was written it was still more of a primitive handling of one concept with the other, not have had enough time to unify various truths the church was pondering in its scattered world of slow communicative networks.
Still, there are many more things going on in Mark and John than just these notes. Huge chunks of nascent theologies, some born, some gestating, but all to be developed more thoroughly in the first few centuries.
My basic point is to worry you about your wish to find what "Jesus has to say about God" to be "more important than what the church says about Jesus."
To me, this is simply a lingering wish, strained from the pulp of Europe's religious wars and America's arrogant identification with manifest destiny, for the certainty of a document handed straight from God.
The documents cannot fulfill this wish. They are of a different kind than post Enlightenment Christianity, with its rationalist "reporters" and "scientists", understood it to be.
The God/human institution of churches were too quick. They were on the ground for years before the Gospels were written. And they took more than a century to put together their own Bible.
Neither the Gospels nor the Bible entire can save us from the question of faith. Not even the "literal" parts.
In fact, the way the Gospels are written, the intention of the structure of the arguments composed by Paul, the apocalyptic hysteria of Revelation... far from relieving us of facing the question of faith and having to "select" what we believe... they all are composed for the purpose of driving us straight to the difficult and unrelenting question:
What do we think of this man? What do we believe?
No book, no scriptures, however Holy, can answer this question.
The need for literal truth is a cop out. One must always run out boldly and unprotectedly on faith.
Sure, if it's not true, we are most pitiable. But convincing oneself that the Bible can deliver me from that risk is nothing but mirage and shallow faith, lukewarm heroism.
Which, to be honest, is just about all we see in this country anymore.
Which is why the "historical Jesus" stuff is kind of funny to me. Where do we have information on who Jesus was that is somehow different from, or separate from, faithful confession? The various educated guess, from David Strauss to Marcus Borg, tell us far more about the searchers and their times and the concerns of their times than about Jesus.
Feo, I liked your description concerning the differences between the the gospel books and their writers. Any thoughts on how collaberation affected the harmony of the gospels? I've only ever been around those who contend that they were written with none, at different times and places and therefore their harmony authenticates their inspiration. What say you?
One other question for you both. What's your most basic definition of the 'gospel'?
LOL, I think maybe it's something like thaqt. ... iF Jeus, who died for all of us, judges all of us, I can live with that. ... Not because he will find us guiltless, but because he the love he has for us will far outweigh our guilt. "Pardon."
There were more gospels written than the biblical four. And undoubtedly more than we know.
Part of the harmony is a result of the community canonizing the four that it did - despite the disharmony between and within even these.
But I, somewhat lightly, am fine with the majority view that Matthew and Luke were written having Mark in hand and a common text of collected "sayings" in Greek of Jesus. This collection, called Q, was folded in the narrative by the authors of Matthew and Luke according to various and differential themes and tropes they separately chose consciously or unconsciously, and did so as members of their particular communities and with different theological points to make.
There is a vocal one or two who make intriguing arguments that Matthew was first. The attraction of this argument may largely be because academics, and human nature, abhors a postulated text and not having it in hand.
In terms of religion, we like to be control freaks, as is DrLBJ's significant point.
But, all in all, this schema of Mark + Q = Matthew & Luke independently, and then John much later and addressing much different situations, is the best one, it seems to me, covering the various harmonies and disharmonies throughout the four.
I am not familiar with any developed argument about collaboration other than this notion of using Mark and a collected sayings book.
The inference throughout what I am forwarding is that the Gospels were not written by Matthew, Mark (whoever a "Mark" may have been, since the reference is terrifically allusive), Luke (who addresses a euphemistic "Theophilus" "God lover), or John.
The practice of claiming a famous "author" for a work was popular and wide-spread and simply what almost every writer of antiquity did to get their work known -- unless they served the Emperor or some imperial court.
Which letters are authentically Paul's is another, and perhaps more challenging debate.
I canNOT get sucked into this. have actual homework to do! :-)
Rudy--the harmony I was alluding to had to do for the most part with the duplicated texts. I agree with you that the harmony that is gleaned from them as a whole has to do with our predispositions that they are harmonious, but I also believe that the narratives overall return to tenets and themes that parallel. Personally, I view them with a belief that God is sovereign and men are fickle, feeble, and fallible. What it means to me is not threatened by what it means to another. I know all too well what I am...I have enough of my own inventory to deal with to be concerned about restocking other's shelves.
Now do your homework, or no supper!
A gospel (apart from etymology) is an extended and brilliant narrative sermon.
The Gospel is the incarnation, ministry, and passion of Jesus Christ.
I think so. Plus, the earliest Jewish followers of Jesus thought so, and I trust their assessment of their own Scripture, MOL.
Re, "If Jesus is the Christ then, ..."
My answer to that "if" is similar to part B above. :-) The earliest followers of Jesus believed he was their Messiah; I say "their" Messiah because, not being a Jew, the only connection I have to the specific notion is theirs. Ergo, Jesus is the Messiah, as far as I'm concerned.
Re, "was his work merely instructional and humanitarian, or is his work also meritorious and redemptive?"
Since, apparently the widely he;d beliefs about the kind of Messiah the Messiah would be was greatly different from the kind of Messiah he turned out to be, I'd say the second part of this question rests in their, and Paul's, interpretation of Jesus, and I accept that. To the first part of the question, I say, "Yes," as well. It's not one or the other; it's both.
Re, "Also, does Christ point men to himself as the path or to just 'a good path' ... "
That's at the heart of my question on this post. I think Jesus pointed people to God, and asked people to follow him, his ways, his words, as The Way to God.
Re, " ...if the latter, could not this have been accomplished by someone other than a Messiah?"
Sigh. At this moment -- and I reserve the right to revise and extend my remarks, and my convictions -- I think that some others are on The Way, whether or not they've heard the name of Jesus, if they're trying to commune with God and others with compassion. Compassion, and a general idea that God is, and I am not God, and God must have provided a way for me to commune with him because I sure as hell can't do it myself, to me, at this moment, are key. The charge of the Christian then, with those peeps, is to fill in some of the gaps, as unfilled as they will necesarrily still be. The task with the rest of the peeps of the world is to tell the story from scratch, the hole kit and kaboodle.
"My question, finally: Might it be that Jesus was saying "I HAVE the way," or, "I'm ON the way," which evolved into "I AM the Way. No man comes to the Father but by me"? The difference is huge."
The difference is huge for us; in the context of the first century, there is no difference.
While Paul, the writers of the Gospels, and the early church would put no limits on what God could or would do by his own will in his own love, particularly with Jews, they clearly stood by the revelation of Jesus Christ as The Absolute Truth about God. Now, the way in which Christ was The Truth mitigates against a legalistic, punitive, judgmental imposition of this truth. More than that, the New Testament begins to work out the idea that the figure of Christ even impelles serious Christians to let the vision of Christ and his ministry expand their sense of the known world into a cosmic reality that enfolds all creation into the notion of the beloved -- an understanding developed for up until the Constantinian conquest.
Matthew, filled with Jewish themes and concerns, probably written by a Jew with a Jewish audience in mind, does not want so much to present Jesus as speaking about himself and presents him as speaking more about the Kingdom of Heaven, which would ease a Jewish readership toward accepting Jesus as the Christ.
John has no such qualms and, in fact, has some regrettable anti Jewish cult tendencies which may stem from the criticism of a thoroughly Hellenized Jew who was following Philo in a synthesis of Greek and Hebraic philosophy.
So, Jesus in John serves narrative persuasion toward different goals.
The bottom line:
1. Looking for an original Jesus will be in vain. No passage is untouched by latter concerns.
2. No passage has a self-understanding of serving "reporting" ends. Such a modern concept is completely foreign and anachronistic.
3. Tying to find natively conscious "inclusive" pockets in the New Testament is also anachronistic and a self deluding effort.
4. Desiring to attribute these (curiously convenient for the twentieth century) "inclusive" pockets to the original Christ has taken a lot of creative energy, sold a lot of books, but is self-deceiving.
One can only settle for determinedly remembering that interpretation must begin already outside the canon, attempt to understand the canon's own self-understanding within itself, to understand the church's experience in the two thousand years of tradition since, and deciding how our experience of the living Christ reshapes these into a vision for today.
The teleology of the Hebrew Bible, or our Old Testament taken solely on its own witness, cannot be seen as specifying a particular form for the Messiah. The Hebrew Bible understands too well that human witness is partial, tends toward the pragmatic, and cannot be absolute. Prophecy and expectation is ultimately open ended.
The Messiah is presented as any number of things.
It is Christian belief only that argues that Jesus Christ answers that expectation.
To the extent that we see it, means we are interpreting the Old Testament in the very way we now also must interpret the New in ways different from the direction of its own teleos: from outside the canon in in ways that never find rational surety, only faith.
Jesus IS The Way.
Just as the United States is indisputably a great nation and there are untold benefits in being a member.
Does this make me judge Thailand or Brasil or the United Kingdom to be without any merit at all? Absolutely not. Does this make me feel that no other country can possible have some superior merit to the U.S.? Absolutely not.
Is the U.S. Constitution the greatest political document written? I'd say so.
Does the fact that the U.S. Constitution descend from the Magna Carta and British common law mean these previous systems should be dead to the British people? Of course not.
Is the French Declaration of the Rights of Man to be be spit on? Of course not.
The British and French have marvelous societies and have not been swallowed up by the U.S. Constitution.
Is Jesus the Way? Yes.
Buddha? Works for millions, perhaps a billion people.
Muhammad? Him, too.
Does the New Testament acknowledge any other salvation than following Christ? Perhaps only Judaism.
Does the U.S. Constitution, the greatest political document written acknowledge any other structure for its people? No.
Re, "1. Looking for an original Jesus will be in vain. No passage is untouched by latter concerns."
Not in vain. Just not indisputably successful.
Re, "3. (and 4.) Tying to find natively conscious 'inclusive' pockets in the New Testament is also anachronistic and a self deluding effort."
Not. Peter did expand his thinking!
Re, "One can only settle for determinedly for determinedly remembering that interpretation must begin already outside the canon, attempt to understand the canon's own self-understanding within itself, to understand the church's experience in the two thousand years of tradition since, and deciding how our experience of the living Christ reshapes these into a vision for today."
But all of the Gospels, and the epistles, are examples of interpretation. So, to say "interpretation must begin already outside the canon" seems, to me, itself, to be an article of faith not dissimilar from the assertion by some that the KJV was guided by the Holy Spirit directly and therefore is not open to reinterpretation.
Rather than trying to figure out the Jesus story, maybe a better question would be. Are we really a bunch of shitheads who need to be saved because of some guy named Adam? Seems to me if you answer this question logically the rest are just mental masturbation.
No, I'd say we're a bunch of shithesds all on our own, for the most part; and that, as such, what we most need to be save from is ourselves, and that chiefly by trusting that God loves us in spite of ourselve and trying to follow Jesus's ethical teachings and examples, rather than relying primarily on the Super-Hero-rescue-operation-from-outer-space version of the Gospel that most of us habe grown up with -- although, yeah, it's sort of like that, too.
He came to Yale one time for a convocation which also served as reunion gatherings for certain anniversaries of Divinity School grads. Most of the audience was retired ministers, priests, community and social workers of various professions. Grey heads, white heads, bald heads - almost all men - who graduated in the forties and fifties. They had been students when Bultmann, Tillich, et al were summing up a hundred years of biblical interpretation for Americans with the result: the New Testament is preaching faith, not delivering news.
And here was Wright, in the space of an hour, using terrifically fine and vulnerable threading to weave an argument telling them that it was alright to believe in the Resurrection based on the gospel narratives themselves.
It seemed to me to be epochs of history saying "hi" and not understanding each other: those who first heard the ascending chorus of liberal theology and preached it in mainstream churches across America and this English priest and scholar (now Bishop) who was in the midst of putting himself in the forefront of retrenchment, revision, and restoration of faith in the gospel writers' literal intentions.
Again, my take on Wright, reading tome after tome, is a man who puts in Herculean time and work to build a gorgeous paper cathedral. But it's too precious to stand out in the weather.
Seems to me most people are just as good as they are a shithead. Sure we could all grow a little, but why the need for Jesus? Seems to me the specific need only comes into play if you believe the original story. If not, then whoop de doo.
I was referring to inclusivity in connection with your post about relativizing the truth claim that Christ is THE way. Maybe Christ is a way and Buddha another way.
Peter was not accepting other ways, he was accepting that THE Way could be seen by Gentiles.
I hope you see the difference.
My vague phrase about understanding that we begin outside the canon is meant to suggest that as we approach Biblical interpretation, we have to understand that we are trying to reach back through centuries of time and centuries of interpretive debate that lingers in our inherited ways of thinking like overheard conversation.
We usually start approaching a passage as if we were already inside with Mark. But what we have brought with us through the door before we started thinking is a boat load of anachronistic but unconscious suppositions.
We have to learn to read biblical material all over again, before we can begin to interpret.
We are really outsiders to these texts and we need to deepen our sensitivity to that fact before we go in.
To believe literally the Adam story is one thing. To look around and realize that, towers of Babel, side, human beans can't access, commune with, get to or otherwise really even grasp God, the Ground of Being, the Intent of the Cosmos, or whatever you want to call "God" -- that's another.
To "get saved" is one thing, a lesser thing. To get a glimpse of the greater claim of the Gospel -- that God has and is revealing God's Self and God's Way for human beans in Jesus Christ -- that's another.
To "believe" all that, to the jot and tittle, is one thing, a lesser thing. To trust that God loves us, as Jesus taught, and to trust that Jesus knew what he was talking about, and to try to follow him -- that's another.
Stick-figure flannel-board Jesus doesn't do much for me, either. Nor does Super Jesus from Space. Come on. People have to at least get past the glosses and the stereoptypes -- and the church needs to lead the way out of such simple-mindedness. *That's* one reason I'm in seminary.
This would be the natural beginning of an Eastern understanding of "the Fall."
Orthodoxy understands original sin as our state of being in tremendous need of growth and education.
God is giving humanity the gift of time both for our own capacities to be good, to love, to love life, and for human nature as a whole to get better and smarter.
Christ came at some divinely appointed time to establish how high the expectations are for how much we can grow and get better, namely, we can be like God when we are in Christ and God can be like us in Christ.
This bridge is the way, in fact, we can improve improve ourselves to the point where we have very little shithead left and a lot of taking part in the divine nature in a co-operative way.
This capacity to be so good is original to us just as much as to be a shithead.
Again, this is thoroughly orthodox in the Eastern church theology: Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Palamas, Georgias Mantzaridis, Vladimir Lossky, and John Zizioulas, to mention just a few that covers the last sixteen hundred years
You got to say that the Western church, and the culturally dominant American agrarian protestantism, is pretty much hung up on our depravity.
Just look at the American grudge against a man who spent forty years working to provide 6 *billion* meals to the elderly and infirm, rights to disabled people, medicare and medicaid to *millions* of people, civil rights to more *millions* but who was hated into death for his sins.
As for the revered and reviled now-deceased-Kennedy in question, he myself and the rest of humanity will stand before He-who-possesses-all-authority-on-Heaven-and-Earth-and-sits-at-the-right-hand-of-the-Father and give account for our lives. I cannot truly hate the Kennedy for he did nothing to me. He may have done alot of Good by passing legislation and that is kewl..good on him. But the reviling is not without cause. Using privilege and wealth to escape your societal responsibilities (on a consistent basis) If you talk to people in MA they will give you the decades long play by play of the Kennedy family. If you push people around just because you're wealthy and use it to escape legal prosecution from covering up a death in which he was personally implicated and responsible is something that people don't take to kindly to.
Sowing and reaping is a principle not only of the farmland but of human action and morality. We are all subject to it so it's no surprise.
As Thoreau said(I think it was him) "The evil that men do lives long after them while the good that they do often lies interred with their bones" (something to that effect) That's just human nature.
It's funny how you talk about the people of Massachusetts and their distaste for a man they elected to the Senate not once, not twice, not three times, not four times, not five times, not six times, not seven times, not eight times, but...
And Shakespeare has Mark Antony being allusively sarcastic when he says, "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend my your ears; I come to bury Ceaser, not to praise him; The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones."
Mark Antony starts this way because he promised Brutus he would not defame the conspirators. But as he proceeds, he succeeds in reminding the citizens of just what good Caesar did, in point of fact, do and the turn on the conspirators.
Not the best quote you could have selected for your point. In fact, probably just the worst.
And does anyone else find this kind of syntax somehow subpar when talking about any human being:
"I cannot truly hate the Kennedy for he did nothing to me."
Not to mention that it's false. Civil rights, medicare and medicaid has and will undoubtedly affect every citizen of this country... for the good.
Hail Caesar, indeed.
And from the look of things, just the SAT was even a challenge for you.
Wish I could have been at the convocation. Must have been fascinating. Considering he's a fish out of water in England anyway in the cofE it probably wasn't that much different.
I think Wright's argument about justification with Piper would stand in any kind of weather (at least it seems so for now). I need to go back and read again with Bible in hand for the detail work.
Ahh the resurrection, the crux of Pauline hope and epistemology, soteriology and eschatology and probably ecclesiology too. Funny thing, spell check doesn't recognize either soteriology or ecclesiology.
1Cr 15:13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
1Cr 15:15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.
1Cr 15:16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.
1Cr 15:17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
1Cr 15:18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.
1Cr 15:19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
That is my hope. To walk again on this green earth again and that time be free from death, sin and fear and to know by just being able to breathe again after I die.
It's gonna be so nice!
No, the C of E retains a much greater reserve than the PECUSA.
I am happy that you believe in the resurrection and I am happy that your faith is encouraged by Paul in that part of 1 Corinthians. This is as it should be.
But hopefully you have taken leave of Paul when he gets into 1 Cor. 11:2-16 and then again in 14:34-35.
Just goes to show that we are called to faith in our times, not his. Christ's Resurrection is our resurrection, as twenti-first century people.
And as such, rather than eighteenth century people, we understand that the Gospels are not newspapers or science articles or, sorry ER, essays in history.
They are kerygmatic narratives.
And as for walking in the grass in perfection, can I request a walk on the Ipanema Beach in Rio?
The attribution of the Gospel of "The One Jesus Called Beloved" to John is a pure fabrication by Irenaeus, who remembers being told that "fact" when he was six years old. Ireanus considered that Gospel to be tainted with Gnostic interpretations.
There are two thousand years of incrustation covering the statement "I Am the Way" as attributed to Jesus. Good luck in understanding it.
WTH brought that on? When did i say they were essays in history? When have I ever said what I thought they were at all? Besides creative narrative arguments? I think you need to quit superimposing whatever lingering "prairie Protestantism" or whatever you call it on everyone whose language still includes the words and allusions of his youth. Me, anyhow. I defy you to put me in any box. Grr. Tulsa morning traffic grates.
It was simply a tick of toungue in cheek.
(Are you driving and texting?)
No, not texting and driving!