Throughout the last two millennia, the life, deeds,and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth have been proclaimed by his followers throughout the entire world in order that all mankind may receive his “good news”. In order that there be no incorrect understanding of who he is and what he meant, there evolved a traditional understanding of what the “good news” really is. It was believed that the Church founded upon the Rock would not and could not err in the correct transmission of that “Truth” as promised by Jesus himself as recorded in Matthew 16:18-20:
“What about you?’ (Jesus) asked them, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’
‘Good for you, Simon son of John!’ answered Jesus. ‘For this truth did not come to you by any human being, but it was given to you directly by my Father in Heaven. And so I tell you , Peter; you are a rock, and on this rock foundation I will build my church, and not even death will ever be able to overcome it. I will give you the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; what you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven and what you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.’”
These words of Jesus have been understood to be the revelation establishing the Dogma of Infallibility wherein the Holy Spirit protects the Catholic Church from ever proclaiming error as doctrine.
Biblical scholarship is basically in agreement that Jesus died by crucifixion in 30 or 33AD. Twenty years later, the apostle Paul wrote down his experience of meeting the risen Jesus fourteen years previous (~39 AD):
“I have to boast, even though it doesn’t do any good. But I will now talk about visions and revelations given me by the Lord. I know a certain Christian man who fourteen years ago was snatched up to the highest heaven, whether within the body or outside the body- I don’t know, God knows; I repeat I know that this man was snatched up to the Paradise…and there he heard things which cannot be put into words, things that human beings cannot utter, so I will boast about this man.”(2 Cor. 12:1-4)
Fifteen years later (~65-75AD), the earliest of the four written gospels opened with what might be called the “Keynote Address” of Jesus:
“Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God and saying,‘The present moment is the time of fulfillment, and the Kingdom of God is within [“ήγγικεν”] you. Change the way you think, (“Μετανοιειτε”), and believe this ‘good news’”. (Mk.1:15-16)
This might be termed Jesus’ own ‘good news’, whereas, from then on, Christians began to proclaim its ‘good news’ about Jesus. The Church’s ‘good news’ began to consist in the development of “dogma” i.e., the Church’s growth in attempting to understand Jesus’ good news and to transmit that understanding to believers.
The question we have to ask is: Did the Church always get it right? To answer this question without any ecclesiastical bias is and has been very difficult for the Church. The Gospels and all the writings of the Christian scriptures are, after all, written as a formative part of what the Church is. As we read through the four Gospels, we see much evolution within the documents themselves which indicate an evolving Christology, striving to answer the question “Who Jesus is?”, and an evolving Theology which strives to answer the question “What is Jesus’ relationship to God?”
One theme which recurs in all four Gospels is the slowness of the disciples of Jesus to get it right. One picture of Jesus stays with me all the time. It is an image of Jesus with his disciples. Jesus is in a crouching position in their midst, he has his head in his hands and he is saying to them, “You just don’t get it!”
Several Gospel texts portray this :
“Jesus was angry as he looked around at them, but at the same time he felt sorry for them, because they were so stubborn and wrong.” [Mk.4:5]
“ When his family heard about it, they set out to take charge of him, because people were saying he’s gone mad.” [Mk.3:21]
“You have been given the secret of the Kingdom of God,” Jesus answered. But the others, who are on the outside, hear all things by means of parables,So that, ‘They may look and look, yet not see; They may listen and listen, yet not understand, For if they did, they would turn to God, and he would forgive them.” [Mk. 4:11-12]
“Jesus left that place and went back to his home town, followed by his disciples. On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue. Many people were there; And when they heard him, they were all amazed. ‘Where did he get all this?’ they asked. ‘What wisdom is this that has been given him? Isn’t he the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters living here?’ And so they rejected him.” [Mk. 6:1-3]
“Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do what my Father in heaven wants them to do. When the Judgement Day comes, many will say to me, ‘Lord, in your name we spoke God’s message, by your name we drove out many demons and performed many miracles!’ Then I will say to them, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you wicked people.’” [Mt.7:21-23]
“Thomas said to (Jesus), ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going; so how can we know the way to get there?’ Jesus answered him, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one goes to the Father except by me,’ he said to them, ‘you will know my Father also and from now on you do know Him and have seen Him.’
“Phillip said to him,’ Lord show us the Father, that is all we need.’ Jesus answered, ‘For a long time I have been with you all; yet you do not know me?’” [John 14:5-9]
This portrait of Jesus continues throughout history when even his disciples, his followers, his “church” sometimes, fail to understand Jesus’ central message, his central “good news”. Instead, the institutional “church” begins the painful task of trying to explain Jesus’ message, to interpret his mind, to formulate the teachings and define the central “truths” or doctrine of Christianity and to organize its sacramental and liturgical events. Accompanying this task is the function of judging heretical understandings of Jesus’ message and codifying acceptable liturgical and sacramental events. It is also here that I believe that Jesus can be pictured as “whacking” his head and saying, “You still don’t get it.”
After many years of failing to get "it", I've decided to tell you about "not getting it". I'd much rather write to you about "getting it", but since I haven't got it, and in fact have come to believe that the history of the world, and indeed the history of the world's religions is simply a history of the many ways followers have not gotten what their founder wanted to "get across".
Perhaps it is because Jesus did not wish his disciples to understand the good news, but just believe it. There is a difference. The wisest among us often make the mistake of believing that understanding leads to belief, and we wait until hell freezes over to jump the gap. The earliest gospel (Mark) indicates that this is not how it happens.
“Some people brought children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples scolded the people. When Jesus noticed this, he was angry and said to his disciples, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you that whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.’ Then he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on each of them, and blessed them. [Mk. 10: 13-16]
Thus we are asked to believe because of he who proclaims the Kingdom of God, not because it is reasonable. As Saint Augustine wrote:
“Credo ut intelligam, et intelligo ut credam”
[“I believe in order that I may understand
and I understand in order that I may believe.”] [Tract. Ev. Jo., 29.6)
Thus, it seems to me, without nailing any notices on my Church's door, that one way to reach the millions of Christians who seem to be drifting would be to return "ad fontes", the sources of the original good news of Jesus, in our prayer and in our preaching. The original "good news from God, after mankind's seeking for God from our lives on earth for million years, is that his kingdom is within us and that the only time we have is the present moment.