As Though You Hadn't Been Subjected to Enough Already


As Though You Hadn't Been Subjected to Enough Already

My experience with Soul Survivor so inspired me that I picked up the other Yancey book I owned and started to read. And so, now, you will have that inflicted on you as well.

from The Jesus I Never Knew Philip Yancey

Before beginning this book I spent several months in three seminary libraries--one Catholic, one liberal Protestant, one conservative evangelical--reading about Jesus. It was daunting in the extreme to walk in the first day and see not just shelves but entire walls devoted to books about Jesus. . . .

The agglomeration of scholarsip began to have a numbing effect on me. I read scores of accounts of the etymology of Jesus' name, discussion of what languages he spoke, debates about how long he lived at Nazreth or Capernaum or Bethlehem. Any true-to-life image receded into a fuzzy, indistinct blur. I had a hunch that Jesus himself would be appalled by many of the portrayals I was reading.

At the same time, with great consistency I found that whenever I returned to the Gospels themselves the fog seemed to lift. J. B. Phillips wrote, after translating and paraphrasing the Gospels, "I have read, in Greek and Latin, scores of myths, but I did not find the slightest flavour of myth here. . . . No man could have set down such artless and vulnerable accounts as these unless some real Event lay behind them."

The truth of the last paragraph would seem obvious. But often in discussion and debate, it seem that the scholar is inclined to rely upon sources other than the Gospels themselves. To some extent we have the magisterium to aid us in our interpretation of the Scriptures, but to rely entirely upon the magisterium and to not have the direct and essential encounter with Jesus ourselves is a way of not knowing Jesus.

How many of us read through the entire set of Gospels in a year outside of Mass? Some protestants I know read through the entire bible every year. They are truly devoted to the word. And while I admire deeply that devotion, I must readily say that there are large, very dry, very barren portions of scripture for me. Every word is inspired, but not all the words are particularly inspiring at any given time. But let us consider the core of our faith--the story of Jesus. How many of us engage it directly and completely every year? How many plumb the depths of the scriptures on a daily basis. I would suspect very few of us. And were I to expand the thought to the whole of the New Testament, I would imagine that the number would go from few to a vanishingly small percent.

Over the past week or so, I've been reading the Gospel of Mark. I have read and read and read and read and read, and I have not yet finished with the marvels of the first three verses of the Gospel. The Gospel writings are so crammed with riches that they cannot be absorbed simply by reading (for most of us) nor by hearing them at Mass, though that is a truly graced and sacramental exposition of them. The Gospel writings must be encountered in the world of prayer. They must be slowly and carefully examined and unpacked. They must be listened to in the heart.

How many try to do this? I don't really know. I suspect much of St. Blog's actually makes the attempt, but the discipline may become too tedious--we may not find the time each day, etc. But the source of our knowledge of Jesus Christ are the gospel accounts. We deprive ourselves of essential nutrition when we choose to read Fr. Brown's redaction of the Gospels, or Fr. X's summary of the Gospels, or anything other than the Gospels themselves.

I know that one of the things that often keeps me away from the Gospels is fear. I know that if I let Him, Jesus is going to encounter me where I am presently, and if I allow it, I will come out of the encounter changed. Because I don't know fully the nature of that transformation, I tend to avoid it. Who knows, I might come out and discover that I'm not supposed to be a father (seems kind of unlikely since I have a child--but you never know). What it really boils down to, for me, is laziness that takes the form of fear. Jesus will transform you, and transformation means change, and change means work. Good enough reason right there to avoid the Gospels.

But it is only in the Gospels that we encounter the words and the life of Jesus. Yes, we can read visionaries and novelists, and any number of other writings of Saints and other sinners, but not one of them has the authority of the word touched by God Himself--inspired and inerrant--Truth undiluted.

I guess what I'm saying is--if you're reading the scriptures, and particularly the Gospels every day--great! keep doing it. However, it you're not, it's time to start. Life changes day to day, and reading the Gospels seems to be a good way to let God guide the change.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 22, 2003 8:42 AM.

What Kind of Day Would It Be Without a Quote of Some Sort was the previous entry in this blog.

People Who Know Jesus Intimately is the next entry in this blog.

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