Sunday, February 22, 2004

What is Truth?

By now you probably have read Bishop McGrath, the Bishop of San Jose's comments on The Passion of the Christ:

While the primary source material of the film is attributed to the four gospels, these sacred books are not historical accounts of the historical events that they narrate. They are theological reflections upon the events that form the core of Christian faith and belief.

Going down this route, the bishop, on a week that will see the release of the clerical abuse report has made one of the all time biggest blunders in recent history. While Evangelical Christians are handing out flyers to movie goers of the Passion, Bishop McGrath is pre-empting the viewing with a line that, oh well none of its based on history anyway--merely some reflections of a few pious souls.

This "theory" is the basis of everything that you've read over the past umpteen years about the "historical Jesus", the attempt to get beyond the "reflections" and find out who the real Jesus is...But in fairness to that crowd, the passion of Jesus is usually the one item they all agree is historical!

The ealiest sources, outside of the Scriptures, about the origins of the Gospels--all point to a very traditional understanding of their origins. Mark is the interpreter of Peter, who writes down the his gospel from the recollections of the Apostle. Matthew is a tax collector, Luke is a physician who accompanied St. Paul, John is the Apostle John. Although modern scholars love to go back to the original sources, they conveniently ignore the earliest sources when it comes to the gospels and use rather a tests of their own making--such as dropping anything miraculous or keeping anything that seems especially strange and out of character. In the end the "history" they come up with usually reflects whatever they believe or in the case of feminist theologians, the "herstory" they come up with reflects a struggle between Magdalene and Peter.

Bishop McGrath's statement has become the modern creed of mainline churches and to some segments of the Catholic Church. Once preachers buy into this theory they no longer preach with conviction, and what you usually here immediately after the Gospel proclaimed is something akin to "well we really don't know what happened." Talk about letting the air out of the balloon.

Listen, we all grew up with an understanding that the four Gospels told the story of Jesus from different viewpoints. Just in the way that modern people watch the details of the a news event on Fox or CNN and expect to hear a slightly different version of the account, slanted according to an ideology--but nonetheless something that is based on a factual event. Watching coverage of the horrors of 9/11, regardless of what the slant, we know by the hole one encounters in lower Manhattan now that the event happened. Plus the account of what happened that day as told by someone who was fleeing the falling buildings, or someone who lost a spouse in the fall, or someone living in the Midwest who watched it on television is all going to be vastly different, a reflection no doubt but historical also.

How far we go with the "reflection" vs. the "history" of the events told to us by the Gospel writers goes a long way in determining our own way of looking at what impact Christ makes in our lives. My sense is that there is a lot more history in the Gospels, that led to there being something to reflect upon---then there is reflection that would lead to anyone putting their lives on the line.

Reflection is the buzz word of a certain school of modern Christian thought. Sadly, the "reflection" is often of the person giving it, rather than of the Savior who suffered, died and was buried and on the third day rose again from the dead."

It is the "living Jesus" that the Gospel's proclaim and quite frankly this is the kind of history that we don't find in any history book--but more likely on the front page of the supermarket tabloids that proclaim that Elvis or JFK aren't really dead. Ultimately this is what throws scholars into such a tailspin when confronted with the history of the Gospels, they don't know how to handle the miraculous and ultimately the resurection and ascension of the lead character. This is why they also can't handle the difference such an intrusion into the history of man was made by the Son of God that even the year we live is marked by his coming and that time is divided into "before Christ" and in the "year of Our Lord"--they choose to render it "before the common era" or "after the common era." Call it what you will, but the truth is that there was nothing common about the era where someone rose from the dead. But as Jesus said in one of the Reflections, "they would not believe even if one were to rise from the dead." Many modern scholars are sadly in that lot, and I fear not a few clergy too.