Jesus looked up to heaven

Jesus had a good season this Eastertide (1996). During Holy Week he made the covers of Time, Newsweek, and US News and World Report — a phenomenon that might lead us to think that he had really changed the world for good, except for the fact that the Unabomber appeared on all three covers the following week.

May 29, 2014

Seventh Sunday of Easter
(Year A)
Readings: Acts 1: 12-14;
1 Peter 4: 13-16
Gospel: John 17: 1-11a

Jesus had a good season this Eastertide (1996). During Holy Week he made the covers of Time, Newsweek, and US News and World Report — a phenomenon that might lead us to think that he had really changed the world for good, except for the fact that the Unabomber appeared on all three covers the following week.

Anyway, the three magazines vary greatly in their knowledge about Jesus. The real superstars of the articles are speculative theoreticians, whose own imaginings and desires we find in abundance.

Robert Funk, who started the Jesus Seminar and has taught at the academic shrines of Texas, Harvard, and Emory, wants to “set Jesus free,” he says, from scripture and creed.

But what, one might ask, is left of Jesus Christ without scripture, without creed? Well, he’s more like a “Jewish Socrates or Lenny Bruce,” we are told: “Jesus was perhaps the first stand-up comic”—not political, not programmatic, offering no programme for the world. It turns out that the most reliable description of Jesus is that he is “an ironic secular sage.”

Some theoreticians say that Jesus is a projection of Christian need and faith. Isn’t it strange, then, how like a professor their Jesus is, this “ironic secular sage”? ’Tis a pity he himself was not tenured, that he was not interviewed by one of the more reputable reporters of his time, that he had not published in a peer-reviewed journal.

I do not mean to belittle or caricature the contemporary academic readings of Jesus Christ. Surely there is a rich diversity of opinion and quality in the theologians quoted by our newsweeklies. There is also devoted and painstaking research going on in our universities.

But the media coverage merits a clear and critical look. The cover stories of our magazines represent a religious crisis of our times: not just the refusal to face up to the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, but a deep resistance to the transcendent God whom Jesus reveals.

How close is the so-called contemporary account of Jesus to a rejection of any faith in a God beyond? What criteria are used? All miracles must be deemed impossible; any mention of transcendence is suspect; all messianic claims, all reference to an afterlife are unacceptable; any thought that we need salvation by his death on a cross must be repressed.

The contemporary “secular sage” insists that it is all so ordinary, this faith, this story, this gospel, this Jesus. Yet it is precisely the extraordinary, the supernatural, that makes him what he is — not only his moral teachings (which some great sage might dream up), but also his resurrected body (which no other religion has come up with), and the seeming disgrace of his cross.

No human inventiveness would dare to concoct what was an embarrassment to the Roman Empire, a stumbling block to the Greek world, and a repudiation of Gnosticism. As the luminous Kierkegaard suggested, if faith is an offense to rationality, how might reason deal with faith other than by rejecting it?

It is not new, this struggle of faith in Jesus Christ. Since the beginning it was known that if we banish Christ’s divinity, he and all of us are utterly alone. He was just another heap of chemicals who died. It is humanity alone on that cross. And it is a stranded humanity that is left with post-Resurrection delusions.

But if we believe that Jesus is indeed the eternal Word of God made flesh, then our very God was crucified as well; and the destiny of our dying bodies is somehow found in the presence of the almighty God.

If we do not believe that the cross bore the sorrows of God as much as it does our own, we ought not to have approached that wood to kneel. If we do not believe that by his Resurrection we are destined to be free, we ought not to have sung our alleluias on his day of victory. If it was not a heavenly, unearthly Jerusalem to which Jesus ascended, we ought not gather to look and pray to a God beyond who beckons us.

For it is sheer folly, the things we have done this Paschal season, if Christ does not reveal our sublime fortune. It was all a charade if our saving God was not on that cross, if it was not miraculously one of us who ascended on high. But if we worshipped in faith this season, we have again professed that, rather than being dupes of folly, we are the agents of the only true revolution that has graced human history.

In the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, neither Christ nor we are “confined” to dogma or scripture. Rather, our God is revealed and we are therein liberated.

It is God-with-us, Emmanuel, who died our death. It is the God who called history forth and loved it enough to marry it, to preserve and save it, to redeem its terrible, fragile beauty. Thus it was with full heart that we could pray: “We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee, because by thy holy cross thou hast redeemed the world.” And it is with faith in the miraculous, the transcendent, that we, like Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, look to heaven for the giver of eternal life, the glory of the earth and the love and truth from which we all came. -- By Fr John Kavanaugh, SJ

Thoughts of the Early Church

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
The Gospel describes the Lord’s life upon earth and his return to heaven. But the sublime prophet David, as though unencumbered by the weight of his body, rose above himself to mingle with the heavenly powers and record for us their words as they accompanied the Master when he came down from heaven. Ordering the angels on earth entrusted with the care of human life to raise the gates, they cried: “Lift up your gates, you princes; be lifted up you everlasting doors. Let the King of glory enter.”

But because wherever he is he who contains all things in himself makes himself like those who receive him, not only becoming a man among human beings, but also when among angels conforming his nature to theirs, the gatekeepers asked: “Who is this King of glory?”

He is the strong one, they were told, mighty in battle, the one who is to grapple with and overthrow the captor of the human race who has the power of death. When this last enemy has been destroyed, he will restore us to freedom and peace. Now the mystery of Christ’s death is fulfilled, victory is won, and the cross, the sign of triumph, is raised on high. He who gives us the noble gifts of life and a kingdom has ascended into heaven, “leading captivity captive.” Therefore the same command is repeated.

Once more the gates of heaven must open for him. Our guardian angels, who have now become his escorts, order them to be flung wide so that he may enter and regain his former glory.

But he is not recognized in the soiled garments of our life, in clothes reddened by the winepress of human sin.

Again the escorting angels are asked:

“Who is this King of glory?”

The answer is no longer, “The strong one, mighty in battle” but, “The lord of hosts,” he who has gained power over the whole universe, who has recapitulated all things in himself, who is above all things, who has restored all creation to its former state: “He is the King of glory.”

You see how much David has added to our joy in this feast and contributed to the gladness of the Church. Therefore as far as we can let us imitate the prophet by our love for God, by gentleness and by patience with those who hate us.

Let the prophet’s teaching help us to live in a way pleasing to God in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. -- By Gregory of Nyssa

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