Gospels shed light on historical Jesus

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Holy Cross priest Father Joe McCartney was one of the finest scripture professors I ever encountered during my seminary studies or ever since. In a time when the study of the historical Jesus had not yet become a normal part of seminary study, he was already urging us to research the primary sources, the Gospels, and discover not only Jesus the Christ but Jesus of Nazareth and then ask the question Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran martyr, kept asking: “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?”

The question popped up for me again as I read the Gospel for this 14th Sunday in ordinary time where Jesus’ family and his neighbors find him: “His wisdom was beyond them. After all, is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his family living here with us?” Who is this person really?

It occurs to me that many of us in reading the Gospels may neglect clues that tell us much about the historical Jesus. Here then I offer a few clues that have helped me answer the question: “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?”

I have learned, for instance, that Jesus had respect for all, Jew and Samaritan, men and women, those who agreed with him and those who did not. He rejected violence at all costs. Israel’s law and worship were not his primary source of devotion. He often needed to get away from it all, find solitude and speak to the one he called Father. He insisted that suffering was a normal part of life and he himself was ready to take it on. Forgiveness was his response to human failure. He insisted that trust was the opposite side of anguish. He insisted that death was not the end but the beginning of the kingdom of God. He often insisted that questions were more important than answers. He often showed a bit of frustration with his slow-learning disciples. To the frustration of many, he suggested alternative answers to questions that seemed already solved. He loved the natural beauty of birds, flowers, fields of wheat and sunsets. He could predict changes in the weather. He seemed to be afraid of dying by crucifixion; it was evident during that night in Gethsemane. On at least a few occasions he lost his temper. He was the first one to show up for John’s baptism of repentance in the Jordan. He allowed his feet to be anointed with perfumed oil. Being a Jew he probably believed in a God who could dance. He probably could not read or write but his skill as an orator matched that of Demosthenes. He believed in three fundamental principles: “The kingdom of heaven is now.” “Love God first and your neighbor as yourself.” “When you pray, say ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’”

Finally, it appears that he was concerned that his disciples deliberately remember his life — and his Body and Blood — which was poured out for them. At the Last Supper he said to his friends: “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, remember me until I come again.”

Well, that in part, is what we learn about the historical Jesus, the One we call the Anointed, the Christ, Son of God and Son of the eternal Father. That’s quite a bit.

July 9 Scriptures

Zachariah 9: 9-10

Romans 8: 9, 11-13

Matthew 11: 25-30

The writer formerly served the Anchorage Archdiocese. He now lives in Notre Dame, Ind.


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