THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE OBVIOUS
Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J
Table of Contents
We have seen that there is a God. And we know that there is. We know this intuitively, naturally, and spontaneously. And we can formalize and confirm this intuitive knowledge with intellectual arguments, our own personal experience, and the testimony of the vast majority of the human race. Now the most logical and the most relevant question is, “What is the nature of this God?” “What is this God like?”
Creation which reveals the existence of God also reveals something about the nature of God. And by contemplating creation we can learn something about the nature of God. Nature speaks in exclamation points about God. “The hills are mute but how they speak of God…” Every bush is burning. “The image becomes the icon.”
Who has not been impressed and frightened by lightning and thunder, hurricanes and tornadoes, earthquakes and volcanoes? In these natural phenomena we learn something of the awesome power of God. Creation also reveals something of the wisdom of God. Watch a spider spin its web. See a bee build a perfectly symmetrical cone in its hive. Contemplate the purple martins flawlessly executing the principles of aerodynamics in their spectacular air show. Who taught them these principles? We can learn a lot more about the nature of God if we stop, look, and listen to creation. But we could never learn God’s intimate designs and purposes unless he would supernaturally reveal them to us.
History testifies that God has done this. God has revealed Himself to us gradually and progressively according to our capacity and need. This supernatural revelation began with Abraham, “our father in faith.” It continued with the patriarch and prophets and culminated in the final and definitive revelation of Jesus Christ. (Heb. 1:1)
No one has ever seen God. No one, that is, but Jesus. Therefore for us Jesus is the God-connection. What we know about God, at least about his intimate designs and purposes we know through Jesus. What is God like? Jesus is the answer. God is as He is in Jesus. Jesus is the human expression of God. Jesus summarizes and interprets in His Person all of the truths contained in creation and in scripture. Jesus is the medium and also the message. In Jesus, the medium is the message. And the message must not be separated from the medium. What the shepherds and Wise Men found in the manger in Bethlehem was not a papyrus scroll, not a book, but a Person, an infant wrapped in swaddling bands. The entire content of Christianity has been abstracted from the person and life of Jesus.
The first and most fundamental truth abstracted from the person of Jesus is the Incarnation, which is succinctly expressed in the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us...” St. Paul expresses the Incarnation in his Epistle to the Philippians this way, “...Christ Jesus, who was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness: and found human in appearance, he humbled himself becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:6-11)
Who is this man? That was the question from the very beginning of Jesus’ public life. Who is this man who speaks with authority, goes right to the heart of the matter, and goes around doing good, healing the sick, expelling demons, raising the dead to life and proclaiming the good news to the poor?
Obviously he was human. He ate and slept, laughed and wept, was hungry and thirsty, angry and sad, suffered fatigue and temptation, was disappointed and lonely, worked and prayed, and suffered and died. He was like us in all things but sin. And because he was without sin he was fully and authentically human. Contrary to what we may think, sin does not make us more human. Sin mitigates and compromises humanity.
Jesus was the most magnetic human personality ever to walk the face of this earth. Never did anyone speak as he did. He spoke with authority, called a spade a spade and was no respecter of persons. He loathed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and told them in no uncertain terms. He made a whip and drove the buyers and sellers out of the temple. Rough, simple fishermen leave their nets and boat to become his disciples. Learned doctors sit at his feet to hear his wisdom. A tax collector leaves his money table to follow him. Multitudes, captivated by his preaching, follow him for days forgetting even to provide food for themselves. Sinners seek him out to be forgiven. The sick fight their way through the crowds just to touch the hem of his garment. A rich, dignified leader of the publicans, because he was too short to see over the heads of the crowd, shinnied up a sycamore tree just to get a look at him as he was passing by. A powerful leader of the Pharisees comes to him at night to profess his belief in him. And finally, the chief priest says that this man must die because the whole world has gone out after him.
He was magnanimous in his dealings with others. At the Wedding Feast of Cana he provided gallons of the very best wine. When he fed the multitudes he did not give just enough, the apostles gathered up 12 baskets of the food left over. He pictured himself as the owner of the vineyard who gives the last laborer a full day’s pay.
Magnanimous with others he was hard and demanding on himself. Nine tenths of his life was spent in obscurity, labor and obedience in Nazareth. He was obedient to death, even to death on the cross. He had no where to lay his head. The soldiers at the cross tossed dice for his garments and he was buried in another man’s tomb.
No opposition, deceit, pain or desertion can make his lips murmur or his feet falter. Without a complaint he begins his public life with a fast of 40 days in the desert and ends it with the terrible agony in the garden and the scourging and crucifixion. He was simple in life-style, meek and humble of heart, tough as nails and wise as a serpent.
Jesus was authentically human. He was a man among men. But he was also divine. The same Jesus who obeyed Mary and Joseph at Nazareth, commanded the winds and the waves on the Sea of Galilee. The same Jesus who asked the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well for a drink of water, changed water to wine at the wedding feast of Cana. The same Jesus who experienced hunger multiplied the loaves and fishes. The same Jesus who walked the dusty roads of Galilee walked on water. The same Jesus who sweated blood in the garden of Gethsemane was transfigured on Mount Tabor. And the same Jesus who died on the cross rose again on the third day.
Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17-19) He made himself to be the fulfillment of the law. Jesus made himself to be the lawgiver. “You have heard it said to them of old...but I say to you.” He made himself the core of his teaching. “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He made himself the source of power. “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” On his own authority he exercised the power to forgive sins. “Your sins are forgiven...pick up your mat and go home.” He delegated the same power to forgive sins to his apostles. “Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.”
Who is this man? Even after the Resurrection, Pentecost and the writing of the Gospels this still was the question. It took 400 years and the first four Councils of the Church to answer that question definitively.
Arianism was one of the first heresies in the Church. It contended that Jesus was not divine. Arius and his followers were condemned at the Council of Nicea in 325. Later on Apollonius claimed that Jesus was not truly human. He was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 381. Nestorius held that Jesus was not one person but two persons, a human person and a divine person. He was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Eutychus claimed that Jesus did not have two distinct natures, but that his human nature was merged into the divine. He was condemned at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
Thus it was that the first four Councils of the Church spelled out the classical expression of faith in the person of Jesus. Jesus is one person, a divine person, having a divine nature from all eternity, and taking a human nature in time from Mary. This belief was formalized in the Nicene Creed which has been professed in the liturgy for centuries.
Jesus is both the greatest expression of the love of God and the greatest human response to that love.
this man? Today, after 2,000 years of Christianity, the question remains.
It is the question Jesus asks each one of us. “Who
do you say that I am?” And if we can answer with Simon
are the Messiah, the son of the living God,” blessed
indeed will we be.
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