Saturday, October 31, 2015

Chinese Whispers



Chinese whispers (or telephone in the United States) is a game played around the world, in which one person whispers a message to another, which is passed through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group. Errors typically accumulate in the retellings or as many studies have shown, people have an intentional or unintentional knack for embellishing messages (stories) when they repeat it, so the statement announced by the last player differs significantly, and often amusingly, from the one uttered by the first. Reasons for the changes include anxiousness or impatience, erroneous corrections, and that some players may deliberately alter what is being said to guarantee a changed message by the end of the line.

The game is often played by children as a party game or on the playground. It is often invoked as a metaphor for cumulative error, especially the inaccuracies as rumors or gossip spread, or, more generally, for the unreliability of human recollection or even oral traditions.
The game is also known as Russian scandal, whisper down the lane, broken telephone, operator, grapevine, gossip, don't drink the milk, secret message, telephone, the messenger game and pass the message.
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The above Wikipedia description of this children's game brings to mind the evolution of the New Testament writings as they were written by the evangelists. I don't know how you visualize this evolution, but most reputable biblical scholarship, both Catholic and non-Catholic attest that Jesus died somewhere between 30 and 33AD. The earliest writings of which we have texts written much later, were in all likelihood the letters of Paul which contained much description of the earliest Church, both its theology and the problems facing these pioneers. Paul's earliest letters were in all likelihood written in the early 50's. Fifteen or more years later we believe the earliest gospel was written by an unknown author to whom the name Mark was ascribed in the early second centuryAD. It is called a "gospel" from the Greek word εύανγγελιον ("eu angel ion") meaning good message or commonly as "good news". There are four such Gospels, those of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. The first three are often called the "Synoptics", for they seem to be proclaiming essentially the same message.

The Fourth Gospel, ascribed to John, presents a greatly enhanced and developed theology and Christology.   All four of the gospels essentially begin with the description of Jesus as an adult, coming to John the Baptizer for his own baptism; (Mk1:1-13; Mt.3:1-17; Lk.3:1-22; Jn.1:19-34). The latter three begin with an introduction or in the case of John, a Prologue . Matthew and Luke each begin with a narrative about Jesus' birth and boyhood in which there are marked differences and in some cases conflicting accounts. 

Most current reputable scholars view mark's Gospel as being the earliest written and one which depends in part upon oral tradition and sources referred to as Q. This first Gospel seems to have been written in Rome to Jewish and Gentile Christians following the persecution of the Church by Nero (64AD) resulting in the deaths of the leaders of the Church, Peter and Paul. Additionally, the Jewish nation revolted against the Roman occupation of Palestine with a war which began in 66AD and reached a conclusion with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the leveling of the Temple of Herod the Great in 70AD.  A group of revolutionaries, the Zealots, relocated to the rock fortress Masada at the location of Herod's palace  high above the Judaean desert on the shores of the Dead Sea.
Mark's Gospel is thus written during extremely tense times for Jewish-Christians in a very hostile Rome.

Matthew and Luke were written approximately 15 years after the Roman-Jewish War had concluded.  Both of these Gospels had copies of Mark but neither had access to the contents of each others texts.  Both of them did, however, take liberties with Mark to edit and embellish the former and in doing so, caused the understanding of Jesus' life and teachings to evolve theologically. Matthew was thought to be addressed to Christians who had been excommunicated from the Jewish religion and cursed in the Jewish mealtime prayers. Matthew therefore put emphasis upon the Christian faith being the successor to Jewish faith. Luke, on the other hand, was written primarily to Gentiles emphasized God's mercy in inviting them to receive
the good news of Jesus.

The Gospel of John was written in the last years of the First Century and directed at a Church which saw heretical sects threatening the very beliefs of Christians and sought to improve the theological understanding of just Who Jesus is and what His relation is to God.

Thus, the original "good news" of Jesus himself was developed throughout this first Christian century into what would become a doctrinal understanding which would be presented as the correct "understanding".
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In the earliest of the written gospels, Mark begins with Jesus' first recorded words as being: "...Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the GOOD NEWS of God saying,"The present moment is the right time, change the way you think[Metanoiete] for the Kingdom of God is within [eggiken] you ".
                                                                                              [Mk.1:14-15]
Later, Matthew follows Mark with the same essential proclamation of Jesus,
"From then Jesus began to proclaim and to say, 'Change the way you think[Metanoiete] for within you [eggiken] is the Kingdom of Heaven.'"
                                                                                           [Mt. 4:17] 
Luke's gospel takes this opening proclamation and he ties it to Jesus' reading of Isaiah in the Synagogue in Nazareth (only Luke identifies Nazareth as Jesus' hometown) after which he says, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, wherefore He anointed me to proclaim the Good News to the poor...". In 17:1 Luke presented the good news of Mark and Matthew when the Pharisees pressed him with: "'When will the Kingdom of God come?' Jesus answered them and said, 'The Kingdom of God does not come with observation, or will anyone say, 'Look, Here it is' or 'There it is'., for the Kingdom of God is WITHIN["entos"] you!"[Lk17:29-21].
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In later times, Christians would read these words and doubt that the gospel writers had got it correct. Certainly the kingdom of God could not be within us, for that would seem to be tantamount to assuming ourselves to be "divinity", and that would clearly be heretical. Consequently, translators and interpreters sought other explanations. Among these were the translations into Latin of the Greek "Metanoiete" with the word "Poenimini", which literally meant "Repent!" They also interpreted the word "Eggekin" as meaning "very near", or "nigh" or even "coming". This second translation begged for the belief that since Jesus died on the Cross, he wasn't victorious thus Salvation awaited a Second Coming "on the clouds of heaven" at the end of time. Saint Paul's letters to the Thessalonians I and II, in which the dispute is aired.  

Today, if an average Catholic is asked "What is the 'good news?'", if you lived in Massachusetts you might answer as I probably would, "How 'bout that Tom Brady!" or "The Patriots are 7-0". To consider what the Catholic Church itself today believes would be the Gospels in their entirety, all four and the information they contain about the life, teachings, death and especially the Resurrection of Jesus. But if we seek to know what Jesus Himself  considered the "good news" to be, it would be that "the present moment is the right time", i.e., don't wallow in guilt about the past nor be excessively worried and anxious aout the future, the way most of seem to be all the time. Instead, Jesus seems to say,"live in the present moment"; and furthermore and most importantly, "Change the way you think, BECAUSE the Kingdom of God is WITHIN you." It seems so Zen for Jesus to have considered this the good news that mankind has been waiting to hear for thousands of centuries.

Each of the four Gospels also present Jesus as he speaks in public for the first time:
       [In Mark] "Jesus and his disciples came to the town of Capernaum and on the next Sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people who heard him, were amazed at the way he taught, for he wasn't like the teachers of the Law; instead he taught with authority." [Mk.1:21-22]

"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? How does he perform miracles? 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."                                       [Mk6:1-3]            
                                                                          
[In Luke]  "And Jesus went to Nazareth where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath he went as usual to the synagogue. He stood up to read the Scriptures and was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah... " They were all well impressed with him and marveled at the eloquent words he spoke. they said,"Isn't he the son of Joseph?"...
"...Jesus said," A prophet is never welcomed in his home town."
" When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were filled with anger. They rose up, dragged Jesus out of town, and took him to the top of a hill on which their town was built. They meant to throw him over the cliff, but he walked through the middle of the crowd and went his way.                                                                                                 [Lk. 4:16-17, 22, 24, 28-30]

Thus it seems to be that the earliest descriptions of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry was that of a man, and a man who talked with authority unlike any other teacher of their experience.  Although he was amazing in his manner, it was his "good news" which made many believe he should be locked up. We are humans living in space and time. All we know comes to us from experiences in space and time, not from some "interior" which only contains body parts. No one could see, hear, smell, touch, taste this WITHIN Jesus was talking about. No one could imagine it nor conceive of it and so it was very difficult, many would say impossible, to believe what Jesus was proclaiming.

In order to try to make his 'good news' more understandable, Jesus employed parables  in which he used similes and metaphors to try and describe what the Kingdom of God was like. He employed "signs" of the Kingdom with these words and even more powerfully with miraculous deeds, also referred to as signs, but to no avail. Many continued to ask for proof but left Jesus unbelieving.

Belief cannot be proved, nor scientifically arrived at, it simply must be based upon the trustworthiness of the  proclaimer. We believe in Jesus because Jesus is Jesus; just as a young child believes his mother because she is his "mom". 

To believe in Jesus is to believe in his "good news" that the Kingdom of God is WITHIN, and that the only time we have is the present moment. Our job consists in living, thinking, believing in a reality which is "Now, Here and This."

As time passed, the Church developed its theology of Jesus as the Incarnate second Person of the Blessed Trinity, as a true man (as was known early on) and as true God (later...and which teaching made many come to the belief that Jesus was either one or the other, but could not reasonably be both. This constitutes heresy because the divine reality is not understandable, but yet believable). 

In our modern scientific and materialistic world view, many can't accept this. To understand it, science must regard its knowledge as restricted but very, very important and helpful; just not capable of disproving an object of faith.
                                                                             Charlie Mc