Hopkins Lectures 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus of Nazareth a Prophet Betrayed

James P Mackey

Plenary Lecture Hopkins International Festival, 2015


The most substantial resource for the history of the prophet from Nazareth is provided in what is called the New Testament section of the Bible, in what must be recognised as a collection, made and re-made in the early years, of the oral memoirs and cherished writings of different groups of Christ followers, until by an equally long sequence of acceptance and culling, a selection of the best attested sections was authorised and called the New Testament. We first come upon the story of Jesus in the so-called infancy narratives that only two of the evangelists offer, namely Matthew and Luke. Matthew’s gospel opens with ‘The Book of the Genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David;’ so Jesus was of the royal line? As such he would be qualified to occupy the throne of David; and so great crowds welcomed him throughout his public ministry, and particularly on his last journey to Jerusalem; although at least once he explicitly denied that he could be David’s heir; but nobody listened to that claim, and the consequences were tragic, as we shall see. (Matthew 22. 41-46) Matthew then describes a virginal conception and birth, for ‘that which is conceived in her (that is, Mary) is of the Holy Spirit;’ and the chief priests and scribes of the people told Herod the king that the Christ was to be born ‘in Bethlehem....for from (Bethlehem) will come a ruler who will govern my people.’ (Matthew 1.1 – 2.6) Luke sets the birth story in the context of an imperial edict requiring registration for taxation purposes; so Joseph went up from the city of Nazareth to ‘the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David;’ Mary having been previously told that ‘you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David.’ (Luke 1. 26 – 35) All of this is the very stuff of the everlasting destiny of the kingship of Israel, courtesy of the coming of the Great Spirit on God’s plenipotentiary on earth, whether in the womb as in the case of Jesus or, as Psalm 2 has it, more usually on the day of the inauguration of the rightful heir to the throne of Israel; from which day onward the Great Spirit will rest upon the kings and secure the throne of Israel forever. That is the first Jesus we meet in the gospels; or should we say, that is the Jesus that the greatest multitudes credited and followed, no matter what Jesus could say or do to deter them from wanting to see in Jesus the legitimate heir to David’s throne, and his cause correspondingly to occupy that throne and rid Jahweh’s land of the blasphemy of Roman occupation.

The next significant encounter was that of Jesus with John the Baptist; a very influential prophet in his time and one whose influence, through his many followers, spread wide in the diaspora. John, no sartorial model he, now chastened and cleansed like Israel was when escaping from Egypt through barren desert, cried out his simple but searing message: ‘repent, change your minds and hearts from their errant ways, for the kingdom of heaven is here at hand and, if you let it, amongst and indeed within you.’ (Matthew 3. 1-4) The end-time of fulfilment, eternal shalom, is always already knocking at the heart’s door; and we wish it on each other every other day. ‘Shalom,’ we repeat daily and await the answer,' shalom alechem.’ ‘Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptised by him,’ and John protested that it should be the other way around, but Jesus was persuasive and John baptized him, and ‘the heavens were opened and he (John) saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him (Jesus); and a voice from heaven saying, “This is my son, the beloved with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3. 13-17) Jesus was now acknowledged by the ranking prophet, and by God, as a fully fledged member of the prophetic community that John founded.

‘After this Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptised. John was also baptising at Ae’non near Salim, because there was much water there; and people came and were baptised.....but when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was baptising more disciples than John, he left Judea and departed again to Galilee, his homeland;’ for he was now attracting more unwelcome attention from the Pharisees than was John. (John 3. 22-24; 4. 1-3)

Yet all seem still to constitute one merry band that constituted a prophetic community; but cracks are beginning to appear, possibly as Jesus was becoming more influential than John. And then the founding prophet of that merry band, John the original Baptist, now languishing in Herod’s prison, wonders about Jesus, whether he is the one who is to be the prophet of the end-time of fulfilment, or not. So he sends some of his disciples to Jesus to ask just that question; and the answer amounts to a confident ‘yes.’ And that answer appears to be confirmed when Jesus took some leading followers ‘and led them up a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them, and Moses and Elijah,’ (that last, Elijah, being the one who was foretold to be precursor of the prophet of the end time of fulfilment); and the voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” (Matthew 17. 1-7) The great founding prophet of Israel, Moses, is here, now on this other holy mountain, to witness to Jesus; and to witness also to the prophet who would come to usher in the prophet of the end time, Elijah; and Jesus is confirmed as prophet again, indeed the prophet of the end time of fulfilment, in his own right; and he is not some king-in-waiting called by God from the very womb of his mother Mary, and inspired and strengthened to free God’s own country from its Roman occupiers, as the so-called infancy narratives seem so determined to maintain. These are the two great and sometimes irreconcilable ideologies that vie for attention in the Bible: the ideology of prophet and the ideology of king. The First Book of Samuel informs us: ‘Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he said, “Come let us go to the seer, for he who is now called a prophet (nabi) was formerly called a seer” (roeh). (I Samuel 9.9) I think I would prefer to say ‘visionary’ here instead of ‘seer,’ for too much of our seeing is superficial, and in a creation that is so dynamic and in essence evolutionary, the kind of thing you see in a quantum physics cosmology, rather than in the mechanical cosmos of old Newton, every examination-in-depth of the cosmos shows ranges of possibilities rather than suites of mechanical repetition; and the ‘seer’ is positively tempted, even if he was not pre-disposed, to envision possibilities on possibilities, creativity on creativity; en-visioning rather than plain seeing what is present to the more matter-of-fact mind; and the poet is called-for rather than the mechanic, for those who would accept the Creator’s appointment of Adam and sons to the stewardship of God’s world that from the beginning was appointed to us. And so in the original creation myth that opens the Book of Genesis the Creator repeats that the creation is good, very good for us, one whole act of astonishing grace; and that vision is kept before us through our prophets and poets, the visionary ones, to this day; and God himself looks more like a heavenly Father who provides all with life and all the sources, supports, healings and enhancements of life, free, gratis and for nothing; creation as consummate grace, rather than the fruit of constricting command. (Genesis 1-2) There then came a point at which Jesus, despite rising so high in the ranks of John’s merry band, left and set up on his own; though apparently taking some of John’s disciples with him. The opening chapter of the gospel written by John the evangelist is anxious to present The Baptist as one who was to give testimony that he was not himself the Christ, nor Eli’jah, not to mention The Prophet of the end time of fulfilment; but The Baptist was to witness that Jesus was the one, for as he said, ‘ I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven and it remained upon him.’ (John 1. 19-35). Yet all of that just tells us of a parting of the ways between John the Baptist and Jesus by divine ordination; and it adds little or nothing concerning what of substance with respect to the policies or theologies of these two accompanied or even caused this parting of the ways. Information on that matter must be gained from obiter dicta or incidental issues also referred to in the Biblical text; as follows: first, the evangelist John observes that ‘the law (Torah, the lapidary text of the religion of the house of Israel) was given through Moses (on the Holy Mountain); but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.’ To which the indefatigable missionary and letter writer to the Gentiles, Paul, added more tersely: ‘You are not under the Law, but under grace;’ as stark a contrast as even the often truculent Paul could manage. (John 1. 17; Romans 6. 14) But all we need to note for the moment is this: that when officials from the Temple government – scribes of the Pharisees, priests sometimes – came calling on John the Baptist, he had little or no difficulty in convincing them that he upheld the Law to the very letter; for he would even die for condemning Herod’s breach of the Law when Herod took a woman to marry that the Law said he could not marry. Greater loyalty than John’s to the lapidary law of the house of Israel it would be difficult to imagine. But this other fellow, Jesus, once John’s right-hand co-baptiser, seemed to show at times a brazen indifference to Torah; in particular, it seemed, with respect to his breaches of Sabbath law by healing on the Sabbath. And when challenged on that precise matter, Jesus brazenly announced that: ‘the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’ John’s signature sacrament, his baptism, achieved no more, if no less than was achieved by the Jewish holy day of atonement at the end of a week of ceremonies in which the Jew was mindful of sinning, repented at length and re-committed herself anew to fidelity to Torah. Jesus, however, chose the meal of thanksgiving, that is, any meal celebrated as eucharist (to thank God for), to which all are admitted without condition, the just and the unjust, ‘so that you may be the sons of your Father who is in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.’ (Sun and rain being the sources and sustenance of all life). (Matthew 5. 45) So in celebrating eucharist the Pater- or Mater-familias, standing in for the one our creed calls ‘our Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth,’ breaks out the food and drink, sources and symbols of life; life as pure grace or gift of God for saint and sinner alike; just as, in general prophetic jargon, the banquet was the prime symbol of life as pure grace both here and hereafter. (Matthew 5. 43-48) And the lapidary Jewish Torah, with its inevitable accompaniment of penal consequences for breaches of its literal legal codes, cannot be allowed to trump the reach of the principles that Paul and John the evangelist composed: ‘you are not under the law, but under grace;’ ‘for that Law came through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.’ So the divine initiative of a supervening reign of God’s grace must trump the oft-alleged legal and penal consequences of breaching the terms of God’s laws which, as the opening creation stories in the Bible dramatise in their way, consist overall in the wisdom by which God makes this world good for all creatures, and indeed very good for all eternity; a regime in which the only suffering we should fear is the suffering inflicted by our fellows or indeed ourselves who fell in the fall of Adam; and even that can be tempered by seeing it as a fire to reverse our fallen state as it burns out of us our own attachment to our evil desires, the yeser ha ra; and leaves behind a reign of pure grace that like a great tsunami bears us through all adversity, and towards the shores of eternity and eternal shalom; as we are already assured, however late in life, and as was the case with Patrick Kavanagh in his great poem on creation, quirkily entitled, Miss Universe: ‘there are no recriminations in heaven.’ Now this hegemony of pure grace, rather than that of the administration of lapidary law, is evident from the sheer variety of symbolic forms in which Jesus put it across. First, there is the eucharistic meal, participative symbol and anticipation of the banquet of the kingdom of God in eternal shalom; in which we break out the food and pour out the drink to others at whatever cost to ourselves, symbol and earnest in this life of cherishing the lives of others; pure grace in action; like that of our Father who is in heaven, ‘who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust;’ rain and sun being the sources and servants of all life on earth. (Matthew 5. 45-46) There then is the pure poetry of the parables; in one of which the son who would be prodigal insists on getting the share of the worth of the farm that would be due to him, presumably in the father’s will. But he squanders it on his evil ways until he has to go home and ask to be taken in; only to have his father (again the earthly persona of the heavenly one), not even waiting for confession and contrition, take him back into the feast, dressed as befits a son of the house taking his place at the banquet that is the symbol of the eternal banquet presided over by the heavenly Father. Or the parable of the labourers in the vineyard where a wage is agreed with those hired first for a denarius a day, whereas those who came later from the hiring station caused an angry response when they too received a denarius a day at pay-time. The first arrivals protested of course; only to be told that they should not turn the evil eye on the generous one because he was good by nature and forever gracious beyond expectation. Then there were these many occasions on which Jesus tackled the popular belief that those who suffered crippling illnesses and injuries, or met with other serious misfortunes, were now being made to pay by God for sins of the past committed either by themselves or their ancestors. Like the man blind from birth that Jesus and his disciples met on the road, whose predicament prompted the disciples to ask Jesus: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be manifest in him.” (John 9. 1-3) A blanket rejection then, of the belief that God is a punitive God either here or hereafter - there are no recriminations in heaven - but rather the God of absolute love and relentless grace, to whom our sins are always already forgiven. For then the way is open for those who witness the misfortunes of others to take our very subsidiary part in restoring to them, as best we may, the reign of the kingdom of God, a reign of all-conquering love and grace, as we ourselves experience it and now must try to extend it to our less fortunate fellows; the reign of the kingdom of grace that is God’s grace ever enticing the cooperation in grace that is both our obligation and our eternal reward.

The Betrayal of Jesus

Jesus, erstwhile protégé of the prophet John the Baptist, was a prophet in the house of Israel. He was not a priest - he did not have the proper pedigree in any case - nor did he ever ordain any priests; nor were there any priests in the little community he founded, later calling itself Christian, until Constantine had to be dealt with. Like the prophets of the Original Testament, Jesus instituted a kind of privy council of ‘sons of the prophet,’ also known as The Twelve, because he understood that his divine mission was to restore Israel of the twelve tribes to its former integrity before God; until the house of Israel achieved the ancient divine purpose of shining ‘a light to the Gentiles.’ The Gentiles, of course, would have to come to Jerusalem in order to see the light. In pursuit of that restriction, Jesus ordered The Twelve to ‘go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, ’The kingdom of heaven is at hand;’ just like the two original prophets, John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ who preached to the house of Israel, and to it alone (Matthew 10. 5-7) From which you may gather that Jesus had no business founding a new church other than that of the house of Israel; much less founding a new religion called Christianity. In the event however, ‘a great persecution arose against the church of Jesus in Jerusalem (now the headquarters the prophetic movement); and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria; thus rendering nugatory the order to ‘go nowhere amongst the Gentiles.’ (Acts 8. 1) And eventually these exiles from persecution began to talk to ‘the Greeks’ and to spread their mission ever farther and wider. And then Paul came along, erstwhile relentless persecutor of sons of the prophet Jesus, but later blazing a trail that had him named the apostle to the Gentiles, while still maintaining the character of a growing and expanding community as a prophetic community, with apostles still prominent in the leadership, but followed closely by the prophets in second place; as befitted a nascent church (ek-klesia), a called-out community of sons of the prophet, Jesus. (I Corinthians, 13. 27-31) But still no Christian priests; not at least any of those cultic, sacrificing priests in temples that the other religions of the empire built in any town of any importance. The first betrayal of the prophet Jesus consisted in the representation of Jesus as pretender to the throne of David, a phenomenon that took centre stage on the last journey of Jesus to Jerusalem surrounded by a vociferous crowd shouting, ‘Hosannah! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel;” when he was no such thing, but rather a prophet who believed that he was ushering in the utterly gracious reign of God that would characterise the end-time of fulfilment; shalom. His capture, arrest and execution on a trumped-up charge of pretending to the throne of David put an end for some time to come to any royal pretensions but, as we shall see, later and again under Constantine’s imperial influence, the image of king Jesus returned and reached down to his earthly plenipotentiaries. Meanwhile worse was to come, and would cause an utter disfiguring of the banquet of the kingdom, eucharist, the signature sacrament of the Jesus movement, which happened like this: emperors saw in religions a source of social cohesion, when its members offered sacrifice to God for empire and emperor alike. But this Christians refused to do, and in consequence they suffered a series of savage persecutions that, although intermittent, lasted for two centuries or so – and that is a long, long time - until Constantine had a vision of the Chi-ro, a symbol of Christ crucified set upon the fiery circle of the Sun God of Constantine’s own solar ethical monotheism; and Christians then felt they could offer the sacrifice that had already long ago taken place on Calvary, on terms that would suit the emperor, himself already the High Priest (Pontifex maximus) as well as the secular monarch of the empire and its religions. The Christians had, in any case, nothing else to offer that would look like the blood sacrifices and officiating priesthoods of the empire. Now they could have both; but at what cost? They were probably too relieved to ask; but if they had asked, this could have been the answer: they had turned the rite of holy communion, the banquet which symbolised our imitation of our Heavenly Father, breaking out and pouring food and drink, sources and symbols of life unlimited, to all without reference to the deserts of saints or sinners, as sign and symbol of life without end in eternal shalom; often at costs to all, but costs endured gladly in order that we should be like our Father in heaven, who sends his sun and his rain for the benefit of life all round, as an earnest of eternal shalom. That understanding of the sacrament of eucharist as the banquet of the kingdom is not without its elements of suffering of various kinds in order to maintain the promise of perfect shalom for all; but the sacrifices made for others - for eucharist, remember, contains a sacrificial element at communion time, a breaking and pouring as symbols of giving something of life for others - and this sacrificial element will pale into insignificance, or at least will become tolerable as it places the promise of eternal shalom under the heavenly Father’s providence, forever within the reach of all. The communion table foreshadows the great eternal banquet at which all will eventually sit; and sinners before saints, as Jesus persisted in annoying the righteous by insisting on it. On that understanding of the sacrament of Eucharist also the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, is indeed the God of unconditioned love and relentless grace; but on that other understanding of God as the one who would send a human being to his death to satisfy God’s justice fractured by human sins, we are looking at a vindictive divinity who would kill the innocent Jesus for the guilty; in other words a moral monstrosity. (The atheistic or agnostic humanists of our time are so right about this; and we should be grateful to them, instead of trying to fend them off. Basic human morality is quite often much safer in their hands than it is in ours.) The communion table then, or the more impromptu ‘spreads’ that could feed five thousand (not counting women and children) should be at the heart and centre of the sacrament of eucharist, as it was for Jesus throughout the whole of his public mission and, correspondingly, every meal should have the potential to be a communion meal, always, if possible, seasoned with the sacrificial motif of giving whatever it takes to share life with the less fortunate, at whatever cost to oneself. Yet as matters stand, in my Roman Catholic church and others, the sacrament is thought to be centred round the so-called words of consecration: ‘this is my body given up for you; this is my blood which will be shed.’ The pronouncement of these formulae is then thought somehow to bring about the ‘real presence’ of the crucified Lord Jesus, ‘under the appearances of bread and wine;’ a move then which is thought to effect ‘the real presence’ of the very substance or being (ousia) of the Lord crucified on Calvary on the relevant altar; so that now we can offer on any altar the sacrificed one on Calvary, who is now present under the ‘appearances’ of bread and wine, the substances of which have disappeared in order to make room for the substance of the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, the ‘appearances’ of which, in turn, are no longer apparent. This mysterious strategy that came to be known as transsubstantiation, seems to have required a very garbled piece of medieval metaphysics could in any and every attempt to explain it to plain people in the pews. For it seems to require that the substances of food and drink, sources, supports and enhancements of all life, be magic-ed away, leaving only their ‘appearances’ behind; when it is precisely the symbolic breaking and pouring out of these particular substances of food and drink that are necessities of life, these gestures of pure grace imitating the God of unconditional love and relentless grace, that are at the heart and hope of this sacrament, and the earnest of eternal life in God’s kingdom eventually and unquestionably for all. Now even if this rather infantile piece of the medieval metaphysics of transubstantiation could really achieve its end, as it is mysteriously thought to transfer from Calvary, in defiance of space and time, and under the appearances of bread and wine and the powerful words of the celebrant, the crucified body of Christ to a Christian altar in fourth century Rome; whence it could be offered by a recently acquired Christian priesthood as a human sacrifice now offered up for emperor and empire alike, we are still lumbered with the consequent belief that the innocent one was put to death to placate the justice of a once more vengeful God; while the God of unconditional love and relentless grace that the visionary Jesus preached and pictured in every possible manner has disappeared once again behind the frightful figure of the God who punishes sinners for their sins, both here and hereafter, in time and eternity. The characteristic success of that betrayal is illustrated in the fact that in virtually all of the Christian churches to this day the reign of God that our hearts should desire is lost to view behind a reign of divine punitive law, rather than powerfully presented through the reign of relentless grace. We are then no longer under grace but under the law; and the very nature of God is changed to that of a punitive tyrant rather than the ever-loving, gracious and forgiving Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, that Jesus preached and served; and the evangelist John and the mighty apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, understood and embraced. Really and truly, there are no recriminations in heaven - and there are few, if any poets produced in Ireland who could boast such visionary powers, such prophetic insight as our late lamented Patrick Kavanagh displayed in that marvellous poem on God’s good creation, with the quirky title: Miss Universe. It is well nigh impossible to answer the question: who chose Calvary as the central sacramental/sacrificial theme that should point to a sacrifice offered and accepted by God in satisfaction full and final for the sins of the race? It is possible to point to Constantine himself or rather to Constantine’s vision on the eve of the decisive battle at the Milvian bridge; for the Chi-ro symbolism, which has a cross-like theme embedded in it, is itself set upon the wheel of fire representing the Creator Sun God who was the reigning God of Constantine’s family and, he would wish, of the empire if not the world. So this central piece of iconography could surely suggest that God had the world and humankind saved through the sacrifice of his own son, Jesus. And yet, for all these serial analyses of ways in which it can be said safely that the innocent can be put to death to satisfy the injured divine justice, nothing can hide indefinitely the sheer moral obscenity of substituting the sacrifice of the innocent for the blatantly guilty. No amount of sanctimonious blather about how noble it was of Jesus to go willingly to his death on a Roman cross to save a sinful race from its just deserts, the innocent for the guilty, can put a better gloss on such an obscenity; they can only change the God of infinite grace into the false god of penal law. And in any case Jesus was put to death on a Roman cross on a false charge of zealotry; and he knew that only too well; better in fact than all of those busy exegetes who have since worked so hard on the substitute obscenity of killing the innocent in lieu of the guilty. We are all now very far indeed from the God that Jesus actually preached and served: the God of unconditional love and relentless grace that we can still see clearly through the Bible, beside the manifold modes of betrayal that I have tried to outline in the brief time allotted. Although, on second thoughts, it might be worthwhile to take a few extra minutes to outline another betrayal of the vision and faith of the historical Jesus that touches on the teaching rather than the liturgical side of the leadership structures of the church of the prophet Jesus in the world; for this side of the leadership structures turned out in the event to become a matter of raw power and over-lordship rather than leadership in the form of service to the whole people of God.

Briefly, shortly prior to Constantine’s time, his predecessors had rationalised the rag-tag-and-bobtail scenario of religions in the empire into a system in which overseer or bishop-like officers were graded according to dioceses at the lower local level, metropolitans in key cities and, of course, at the top the Pontifex Maximus. And for centuries after the Constantinian settlement the battle raged (literally in some cases) as to which - the clerical or the secular Pontifex Maximus - could claim the superior power and authority over the other. (Both of them claimed the title ‘papa,’ a more instantly endearing title than that of the peremptory ‘pope,’ and so much more cuddly). But the salient point of this deployment of authority in the church through this three-tiered structure is that it is all about power, and in particular the suprema potestas of the one at the top; a phemonenon that engendered centuries of struggle between the two, Roman Pope and Roman Emperor, as to which should legitimately lord it over the other. So that to this day the Constitutional part of the Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law declares the supreme ordinary power of the Roman Catholic papacy over the whole church and all its members.

This is an institution that defined its own infallibility, residing primarily in the Pope, in the First Vatican Council in 1870; thereby capping the case for the unquestionable authority of all its edicts when these are addressed, ex cathedra, to the whole church in the world, including any old emperors that might yet be lying about. In the midst of this myopic nonsense nobody seems to have noticed that Jesus had laid down that those who would be leaders should act as the servants of all; not and never as overweening powers whose edicts and teachings must go uncontested; and all seems forgotten of the manifold ways in which Jesus tried so hard to state the case for leadership in the pure form of service to all; and not at all after the manner in which the kings of the nations ‘made their authority felt.’ Faced many times in the course of their public mission with regular claims by some close disciples to have positions of power over all the others, Jesus would say: ‘you know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority felt. It shall not be so among you, but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first amongst you must be your slave.’ (Matthew 20. 25-27) A lesson that John the evangelist drove home most dramatically and appropriately in his account of the last supper, at which the paterfamilias serves all with the food and drink for life; and Jesus stripped down, like your normal household slave, to a towel around his waist. (John 13, 1-38)

So now, in addition to the betrayal of Jesus in turning the God of unconditional love and relentless grace back into the vengeful lord who would punish both here and hereafter poor creatures whose sins are committed here, we have a second betrayal in which a body of self-appointed leaders seeks to dictate, under alleged divine providence, the details of our faith, as if they alone were made infallible in dictating the terms of that faith to us.

Now, of course, the two betrayals are not quite on a par, as far as seriousness of outcomes is concerned. The suprema potestas in teaching the true faith can be shown to constitute a false claim to such power, certainly in the case of preaching morals; since the church has acknowledged the laity to be the true experts on all matters of living ordinary life on earth; and the laity all over the world promptly rejected Pope Paul VI’s teaching on ‘artificial’ contraception in the infamous Humanae Vitae encyclical. And there is scarcely a shred of moral probity, not to say authority left to the teaching hierarchy in that church since the world-wide sexual scandal of priests and religious preying upon children and adolescents was covered over by orders of secret containment of the matter to church legal procedures in camera, thus hiding it all and thereby facilitating its unhindered continuation.

The Vatican in currently under investigation by the UN Commission on Torture; and not before time. But the other betrayal is almost infinitely greater in substance and consequence, since it betrays the very nature of divinity itself in its relationships to the creation. These are defined at the very outset of the Bible, in the over-riding theme that states throughout the rest of the conjoined creation myths in the first three chapters of Genesis:

1. That God created the heavens and the earth (i.e. the cosmos as a whole) so that it should as a whole and in all its parts be good for human kind; a grace conferred, a veritable Eden.

2. That God then promoted our race to the enviable position of stewards of creation seen as an everlasting grace to all in God’s name. But instead of taking the good creation as everlasting grace to all in God’s unalterable intention, Adam-everyman decided he could read off for himself the wisdom in creation by which God made it contribute to eternal shalom for all and forever, Adam-everyman then decided he could use his own human measures in reaping in his own way the graces he saw best for himself. But soon enough fracturing selfishness took over as one man’s desires were another’s deprivations; so that God had to throw them out of the garden, and to set at the entrance to the garden cherubim with flailing swords of flame; in order to symbolise for our fallen race that it is normally when we are cleansed by the fire of the punishments we inflict on each other in our self-inflicted fallen state, that we can enjoy paradise regained and eternal shalom. That is what is meant by claiming that the Heavenly Father, Creator of heaven and earth is the God of unconditional love and relentless grace who has already forgiven our sins even as we commit them; so that there can be no recriminations either here or in heaven. That is the God that the prophet, Jesus, sees and portrays in all his words and deeds; and not any god who would condemn sinners to the eternal fire and only the saints to paradise, for all eternity.

3. So to say that the one true God is to be pictured as an earthly king is the greatest betrayal of all; although that too will be always already pardoned.

INCIDENTALLY ...

The actual, factual historical reason why Jesus ended up on a Roman cross on Calvary was because the High Priest as head of the Sanhedrin, the puppet government in Jerusalem, and the procurator, Pontius Pilate, both had the best of reasons to fear that if Rome heard of the mob that descended on Jerusalem on ‘Palm Sunday’, led by Jesus riding on an ass, and greeted by the mob’s ‘Hosannah to the king of Israel,’ then as the High Priest put it, the might of Rome would descend on them and destroy their temple headquarters and the nation - something that happened in any case a few decades later. So, to save their miserable skins, the priests decided to persuade Pilate that Jesus was indeed the leader or instigator of a zealot uprising and should be sentenced to death by the appropriate means, crucifixion.

Imagine the priests’ surprise then when Pilate questioned Jesus and, having done so, declared that he could not find against the accused. Indeed, in order to make assurance doubly sure, Pilate sent ambassadors to the court of Herod, then tetrarch of Galilee; for Galilee was the hotbed of zealotry and insurrection, and a certain Judas of Galilee did lead a notable insurrection there when Jesus was a boy. But Herod, who would certainly know of any such leading zealots moving in his territory, simply informed Pilate’s emissaries that Jesus, as he himself had claimed, was no zealot leader. Whereupon Pilate, fair dues to him, declared Jesus innocent of the charge preferred, and continued to do so to the end: he never did pass a guilty verdict that would justify crucifixion. The priests huffed and puffed, still about complaining Pilate to Rome, but the best they could manage to get from Pilate was the loan of a detail consisting of a Roman execution team; and that only with the admission from the priests that they would take fully on their own joint conscience all of the responsibility for condemning Jesus to death on what Pilate persisted in treating as a blatantly false charge; as indeed it was.

It is crystal clear then that the death of Jesus on Calvary had nothing whatever to do with saving the miserable skins of those who breached God’s commandments; and everything to do with saving the miserable skins of priest and procurator alike, if Caesar came to get them for breaching what in the Roman empire was euphemistically called the pax romana; the peace of Rome, God help us all! Then Calvary makes its malign presence felt in connection with the one sacramental sacrifice that Jesus adopted, and in the process destroyed the pure symbolism of the meal, replacing the part of the Heavenly Father of relentless grace with the ersatz divinity who demands the death of the innocent as punishment for the sins of the truly evil; and turning the God of invincible love into the moral monstrosity of the ersatz divinity of the one who would demand the blood of the innocent to wash away the sins of the truly guilty.

One more piece of responsible speculation may be permissible; how was Calvary for Jesus himself? He knew he was condemned to death by the Sanhedrin on the charge formulated and brought to court against Jesus himself. Broadley, this would have consisted in the accusations brought back to Jerusalem by the travelling magistry, ‘the priests and scribes of the Pharisees’ who were sent to spy on Jesus at his public appearances, and who certainly found enough evidence of brazen breaches of Torah in preaching and practice, on Jesus’ part. Almost any of these charges - and healing on the Sabbath in particular - would have convinced his inspectors that Jesus was deserving of death by stoning; and so he was found guilty. But the Sanhedrin, who condemned him to death on such counts, realised that this would not impress a Roman judge; being, most likely, a matter of some obscure Jewish religious rules. So it was decided to bring Jesus before Pilate on a trumped-up charge of conspicuous zealotry. In other words, the show trial we have just noted, designed to appear to hang Jesus the zealot and keep Rome at bay, for this time at least, could only have driven Jesus into the grim arms of despair: ‘My God, my God,’ he cried, ‘why have you forsaken me?’ For only if he had been executed for preferring the God or relentless grace to the god beloved of the vengeful kings of this world, would his death have inspired all who would then see and worship the same, true God. But that was not to happen, and his despair rang out in the strangled words from the cross. The voice from heaven that had so often assured Jesus that he was indeed the beloved son of the heavenly Father was now frozen in a deathly silence. But his poetic-prophetic teaching, and his sacramental eucharistic symbolism survived, and is visible and audible still, shining and sounding still, from underneath the relative dross remaining from those who persist to this day in misunderstanding the prophet from Nazareth.

 

 

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