Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Primacy of the Gospel: Jesus according to Jesus

In the Roman Catholic tradition the gospels are the centrepiece of everything (now obviously many disagree with this and think Mary or the Pope is) but it shocked me because at my old Church (dispensational) I was basically taught that we 'couldn't trust Jesus' theology' with certainty as it were, because he was in a different dispensation than us, and after all, why listen to Jesus according to Jesus when we could listen to Jesus according to Paul. Now I'm not trying to be negative, this is what they truly believe - and they have reasons for it be sure. But I still remember asking my dad in France why Jesus said things like "be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect" and "blessed are the (enter character trait)" if we are all viewed only as reprobate sinners or the elect who are covered by Christ's imputed righteousness. If this is the case then Jesus shouldn't be saying things like this, exhorting people to righteousness if they're incapable of righteousness - I guess it's the same reason why St. Paul exhorts us to righteousness in Romans 2 and then tells us we can't be righteous in Romans 3, I'm now starting to see it's because Paul hadn't read Luther. Anyway, again - not trying to be negative, but just saying that if Catholics were given the choice of books for theology epistles, or gospels, they'd pick the gospels.

Anyway, I just find it so much clearer now to read Jesus according to Jesus, hear him saying there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than a thousand righteous men (Luke 15). As a Protestant, I'd have to roll my eyes saying "you know those angels in heaven, always celebrating 'dead works' like repentance". So for me, it just seemed more reasonable to agree with Jesus that humans could do things with merit in his sight.

But the real reason I love the focus on the Gospels is because it focuses on this character who is larger than life itself. When I read Jesus it reminds me sometimes of reading Nietzsche - as strange as it sounds. It's so shocking and strangely ironic and poetic at the same time, and you have no idea how any of it logically connects because it's more of a story than a syllogism, but in the end it does, and it leaves you almost more with a feeling than a set of steps to do.

Jesus always pisses people off. Like in today's gospel readings (Jn 9:1-41) where he heals a blind man on the Sabbath (the day we all 'know' God doesn't work - he's unionized) but Jesus just heals the guy - as if to say "yep. I'm too cool for my own rules, I'm going to heal when I want, where I want, and you can't stop me" or as family guy would say "take that society!" At the end of the story I love this part:

"Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains. " - John 9:40-41

Basically: yep, you were doing fine, until you claimed 'spiritual authority' and knowledge, and because you did that, you're going to Hell. Uh oh - works based merit systems - somebody arrest this God-man. (joke)

And if we turn back a few pages, look at how he talks with the Pharisees. Jesus calls himself the light of the world. The Pharisees then say to him: "You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid" (Jn 8.13) ... Jesus replies: "In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf" (Jn 8.16-17) - just for some quick explanation, Rob Bell tells us that a new Rabbi needed 2 witnesses to have his teaching validated, this is what they're discussing. But getting back to what he says "In your law" - I like that Jesus is speaking in this mocking way about 'their law' and he has every right to, He wrote their law. He was the Divine word, spoken and speaking. I find it hillarious how Jesus also just calls God as his other witness. As if to say - Oh ya, and God also sent me, so that makes 2 of us, any other questions? It then describes how none of the Jews arrested him because of Divine Providence, thus giving us the impression that people wanted to arrest him.

Then after that he says to them: "Where I am going, you cannot come.’ Then the Jews said, ‘Is he going to kill himself?" (Jn 8.21-22). Don't get your hopes up Jews, it's like you can almost see their eyebrows raised. I find it funny that God became Man and Mankind's gut reaction was:
1) let's kill this guy, or at least arrest him
2) this dude is insane, I bet he'll kill himself
3) confess him as Lord => "thou art the Christ, son of the living God"
It says something about human sin and divine grace.

Finally, it is telling that Jesus says to them:
"you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word." (Jn 8.37). I think of Mary and Joseph at the inn... no room for Jesus there. I think of Jesus now among his own people, and he says in truth but in pain "there is no place in you for my word". I find it really convicting. Do I make a place in my life for his word, or am I so certain in my theology - like the Jews - so confident in my own intelligence that I have no room for God and his word.

And I'll end with one of my favourite passages John 8:51-59 the end of this glimpse into Jesus' ministry:

" [Jesus said]... Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.’ The Jews said to him, ‘Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, “Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.” Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, “He is our God”, though you do not know him. But I know him; if I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.’ Then the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple."

Oh Jesus you troublemaker you, we never seem to learn, but you love us to death anyway.

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