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There is a fundamental difference between the three Abrahamic faiths; Jews, Christians and Muslims, that is the answer to Jesus’ question who do you say that I am. Of the three Abrahamic faiths only Christians believe that Jesus was both human and divine (setting aside various ‘heresies’ within Christianity which disagree with the divinity of Jesus). Jesus was both human and divine. What God was able to do Jesus was able to do, because Jesus was God. Why then is it difficult to accept that Jesus performed miracles; indeed that his life was in many respects ‘miraculous’ from his birth to his rising from the dead. Critics and modern ‘reformers’ of Christianity are so willing to renounce any ounce of the possibility that Jesus was anything more than simply a good guy, another prophet.
Darryl Ellwood commented in the October 2007 edition of Focus (the newspaper of the Anglican Church in Australia, Diocese of Brisbane)
I understand that Jesus was more than a good ‘man’ for us to emulate. If he didn’t miraculously come into the world. If he didn’t miraculously heal the sick, if he didn’t miraculously rise from the dead to show us that he and the Father (sic) are one, then where is the Good News of the gospel… Was the virgin birth too much for the creator God of the universe to organise? A ‘Spongified’ gospel doesn’t sound like good news to me.
I have to admit to not reading much of Spong’s material. I do think that he, as well as other more scholarly people have challenged contemporary interpretations of scripture that are used to divide and condemn the people of God. Listening to some podcasts of his work I am left wondering the same question as Ellwood. What is the Good News of the Gospel. Spong would have use believe that many of the NT scriptures used to support a divine Jesus are somehow made up or at least misrepresentations of the reality. He would have us conclude with him that the writers – redactors, authors – of the Gospels used well known Jewish stories of miraculous prophets to paint Jesus as ‘greater than our ancestors’ (I use a phrase here from the Samaritan woman to Jesus at the well who asks if Jesus is greater than their ancestor Jacob); in other words is Jesus somehow more than a prophet, or more correctly the woman wonders whether Jesus is not indeed the great Taheb of Samaritan belief who would deliver the people and restore true worship to the people of God.
The belief that Jesus was somehow more than a failed prophet-Messiah brought the disciples out of hiding after their dispersion after Jesus’ execution and caused them to risk life and ridicule and indeed expulsion from the Temple to preach Jesus’ Good News. This outcast group of Jews and Gentiles whose ‘deviant sect’ was tormented, killed and systematically sought out for destruction survived and from it’s Good News came what we call today Christianity; a faith centred on the belief that Jesus was more than a man, whose miraculous life pointed him to be more than a prophet, but a divine being, incarnate in the world, the word made flesh, God in humanity.
OK so for arguments sake if the disciples, writers of the Gospels, redactors or whoever got it all wrong, and drawn on ancient stories to make Jesus out to be more than he was then what… do we cancel Christianity, go back to the ‘faith of our ancestor’, do we become Jews, do we return to the religion of pre Jewish-Christian schism or what about before the schism between Jews and Samaritans. Where do we find God and God’s revelation of God’s message to us.
My ‘blog conscience’ has been on me to post more; she knows who she is. There have been two major decisions I have been wrestling with for quite some time of late. The first is in relation to taking life vows in our community (SSF) and the second in relation to exploration of a vocation to the priesthood. Part of my recent trip to England and Assisi was in part a time to get away from everything here to be able to ask those kinds of questions in a new ‘space’ as well as to remind me of part of the journey that led to these questions being asked. Did I come up with any answers people seem to be asking me; what heavenly insights resulted from my trip. I’m not sure I can fully articulate what these insights are; except for being a little too simplistic and say in the end you have to follow Nike and just do it. Well this was certainly the advice of one person who I spoke with on my trip.
I was also reminded of a short anecdote told to me a friend when I was pondering over joining religious life in the first place. He told me the story of a person waiting to be saved from a flood by God; a row boat, speed boat, and helicopter later and the person was dead. In heaven the annoyed person asks why God did not save him. God says well I sent you a row boat, speed boat, and a helicopter what else did you want. In other words Andrew was telling me that we can spend so much time sitting around waiting for God’s telegram and not enough time reading the ones God has already sent. While in Assisi I went to the church looked after there by one of our brothers, Tom. During the service while reflecting on the Gospel a man recalled this story, I had to have a quiet laugh to myself.
I have often said it before, I don’t necessarily want to be brother or a priest, but I think it is what I am called to be. I look around at my friends who are in loving committed relationships, who have children, or who have others aspects of their lives that appeal to me. I think we are all called to a certain way of life, or better yet – vocation; whether this is married life, single life, professional life or whatever, there is something that is important for us to do.
The idea of being in a committed relationship is very romantic. Whilst it appeals to me, and at the late hours of the night I sometimes long for one I know that this will never be a reality. The feelings pass and I move on and in reality these thoughts only occupy a small amount of my thoughts and feelings. The idea of having a child too is also a romantic one. The thought of being a parent of a child, watching that child grow and develop and mature and take on their own life is appealing too. Watching my friends with their son, or hearing of the birth of my great nephew, or seeing students in their final year of school and talking with them about their plans for after school all stir a part of me that wonders what it would be like to parent a child. Though these feelings too pass and also in reality do not occupy my mind at length and I move on.
I hear of the struggles of my friends and family who do have these things. Particularly those who find trying to juggle relationships, families, jobs, study etc with their spiritual life. Then, if it were a revelation I don’t know, I realised I have a gift to offer them. As a brother I have the opportunity to spend perhaps more time reflecting on our journey with God. I have the opportunity to have more time to pray, to think about some of those spiritual struggles we all have, and I have the time to share the ‘juggle’ with others who do not have that luxury. Non attachment to relationships and possessions which are supposedly the hallmarks of religious life mean that I can be there for those whose lives are given over to other callings of family, professions etc.
As a priest I would be able to offer another set of gifts be way of sacramental ministry. It is clear I’m not called to a committed relationship or the life of a parent but I would be able to bring the gift of baptism, eucharist, reconciliation, marriage as well as the ministry of the word to those whose lives are called to an equally gifted vocation of single and committed relationships and professions.
As I said, this is very hard to articulate. I think what I am trying to say is that I can share the spiritual journey with others when that journey becomes too overwhelmed by relatiopnships and professions. I can share the ‘spiritual parenting’ of young people who find it hard to share that journey with their parents. Perhaps what I can offer is to ‘hold’ people through the pot holes of spiritual life – not because I have got that sorted myself (let me be the first to say I am far from it) but because it is the gift that God calls me to. Through the Grace of God my gift to others could be to just be, to lighten their load sometimes so that they can do what God calls them to do.
I’m not suggesting the answers to my questions have been answered but I at least feel as though I now have a direction to look for the answers in.