Thursday, October 23, 2014

Jesus' "Good News"

                                      Jesus’ “Good News”

“After John had been put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee and proclaimed the good news from God, “The present moment is the right time, change the way you think about reality for the Kingdom of God is within you. Believe this good news!” [Mark 1:14-15]

The Gospel of Mark, the earliest written of the four canonical gospels (ca. 65-75 AD) begins with these words being placed upon the lips of Jesus at the beginning of his public preaching, his so-called ‘Keynote Address’ in which is presented a concise statement of what Jesus has come to reveal to us; the Immanence , the Indwelling, the personal accessibility of our Father, of “Abba”, of  God.  Later evolution of the “good news”, considered it to be the gospels themselves and their revelation of Jesus Himself; and subsequent teaching referred to the “good news” as later doctrines and dogma defined by the Church. As this evolution occurred, gradually lost was the proclamation that God is within us. Mankind preferred the more conceivable datum that God is conceivable and definable and somehow outside us and "transcendent", i.e., above us.  Eventually the distorted concept of God being “That greater than which nothing can be conceived” was offered as a definition of "God".

Christian prayer became words spoken to God much as we communicate with anyone. Certain teachers of early Christian spirituality tried to express the interior prayer which Jesus recommended when the Gospel of Matthew taught:
          “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door,
          and pray to your 'Abba' who is unseen and your 'Abba', who
          sees what you do in private, will reward you."[Mt. 6:6]
 but the tendency towards iconography urges us to conjure up concepts or ideas towards which we fix our attention. This is perfectly acceptable wherein we picture what Jesus, Mary, Joseph or the Saints may have looked like, but is unacceptable when we attempt to create an image of the Creator. Even any name for the Creator is shunned in most ancient religions although some pseudonyms are used such as YHWH by Hebrew Scriptures which means “I AM” but is never pronounced and considered sinful if used as a “taking of the Lord’s Name in vain”. The use of the Hebrew word “ADONAI”(Lord) as a substitute when YHWH is to be read in Jewish Scriptures generated some confusion and mistranslations in the modern era. When read, as a reminder, the vowels of the substitute word AdOnAI were inserted into the text between the consonants of the tetragrammaton YHWH to read “YaHoWaH”. When the original was never uttered, and the Scriptures were translated into German, the name became “JaHoVaH”;  and into English as “Jehovah”.

From childhood, the image many had of God was of an old, old man. Other images of God were arrived at by other cultures such as bulls, golden calfs, Buddhas, Krishnas, symbols of various kinds which represented particular aspects of an infinite Power or Being. Early Christian spirituality created images or ikons representing the Trinity, The Child Jesus with or without his mother, etc..

The belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist rather than being an ikon resembling Jesus, is believed to be the very being of Christ as present by means of his institution at his last meal with his disciples on the night before he died.[Mk. 14:22-26]

In the earliest Letters of Saint Paul, the description of this Last Supper and of the already well established tradition of its renewal is found in his letter to the Corinthians [11:17-24] ca. 57AD. It is noteworthy to read that in the twenty five years since Jesus was alive, the memorial was already subject to misunderstanding and blameworthy behavior.  This indicates that the frequent observation of Jesus in the Gospels that his disciples failed to understand his teaching, continued into the early years of the Church, and without doubt beyond. It seems quite likely that the history of the Church down through the centuries has shown a similar tendency.

One of these tendencies could be the frequent misunderstanding of the indwelling of God as taught to us in Jesus’ first and earliest message. we need to remember that the first thing we should do in our prayer is to make an act of faith in Jesus’ Keynote Address and answer “Yes, I do”, to his telling us, “Believe this Good News”; and then to just sit down, shut up and listen to this indwelling God in total gratitude for his being with you in an experience beyond words and thoughts. Saint Augustine captured this experience in his, “Crede ut intelligas”, "believe in order  that you may understand".   But believe first! 

Another source for the confusion which arose in the first centuries of Christianity was the translation of a word from the original Greek of the gospels to the Latin in the Vulgate Bible of Saint Jerome. The word was the Greek word "Metanoiete" in the above keynote address of Jesus. The word comes from two Greek words, "meta" and "noia" which together mean "after thought", "change of mind" or "repent", and thus in the second person it would mean "Change the way you think", or in the third meaning "Repent!" 

More confusion could have arisen from another difficult translation of the word translated above as, "within" . This comes from the Greek word "Eggiken" ["to be brought very near"]. J.P.Meier ([A Marginal Jew, vol. II, p. 432] compares this usage to that contemporary expression one makes as a train is about to enter the station: "The train is here". It means that the train is in the station. Hence, in this sense, Mark is referring to the belief that the "Kingdom is here, it has come, it is so very close to you that it is within you.  But this is where many believers jump off the train. It is inconceivable, that the Kingdom of God can possibly be within the believer. Inconceivable, certainly, but capable of being believed because that is what Jesus asks of us.  And this is how prayer is to begin, with belief first, and that faith is a gift, not earned but humbly sought and received with gratitude.

If one cannot believe that man can possibly contain the Kingdom of God because he is unworthy, he probably will translate "Metanoiete" as "Repent!" and ultimately explain how we must be unacceptable to Jesus unless we first repent, by reference to the "Original" sin of mankind that all mankind inherited from the first Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Is this understanding better for mankind than an encouragement to look inside ourselves rather than outside to  a distant and judgmental God?  No question but that this text is pivotal in the history of Christianity.
                                                                                   Charlie Mc