Thursday, April 12, 2012
What did Jesus actually say and do?
What did Jesus actually say and do? Reading the four gospels’ conflicting accounts of Jesus’ resurrection through his Ascension inspired me to ponder this question again. The accounts differ greatly in location, timing, and even the characters and what they said.
Luke’s account says Jesus rose, gave final instructions and ascended all on Easter Day while he was in and around Jerusalem. However, Matthew’s gospel places the Ascension in Galilee which is at least a 4-day walk from Jerusalem where Jesus was buried. Mark’s gospel itself contains two different versions of the story. And, John’s gospel concludes with a bunch of the apostles back at their old fishing jobs in Galilee and no Ascension. Each gospel has Jesus leaving different final instructions sometimes to men and women, sometimes to apostles only, and sometimes to just Peter. The wide variance in the Easter stories offers little certainty other than that each gospel author inserted as literary devices, things that Jesus neither said nor did. Yet in this we seek “truth.”
What is the “gospel truth” offered by these conflicting stories? This question becomes even more pressing since church leaders select different renditions of the story to justify traditions. To a layperson, they seem to manipulate Jesus’ words and actions to justify their power, preferences, processes or policies.
Yet, on Holy Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI said that priests are “consecrated in truth”. Ironically, he then proceeded to spout falsehoods while chastising a group of European priests for supporting female ordinations. The pope said the church had definitively decided against women’s ordinations and that Pope John Paul II “irrevocably” stated “the Church has received no authority from the Lord” to ordain women. In this instance, the pope overlooks the Easter accounts where Jesus not only sent (the definition of “apostle”) Mary Magdalene to proclaim the most important news in salvation history to the other apostles, he chastised them for not believing her.
Quite simply, the pope’s statements are falsehoods. For the record, John Paul’s statement wasn’t irrevocable. Pope Benedict wishing and stating it was irrevocable doesn’t make it so. Jesus gave the church authority to loosen or bind, and stated no explicit ban on women ordinations. The hierarchical leaders placed those words in Jesus’ mouth and then say they lack authority to remove them. Jesus actually sent a woman to proclaim the good news of his resurrection. The church ordained female deacons at least until the ninth century. Literary and archeological evidence indicates there were women priests in the 4th and 5th centuries. There is even historical evidence of female bishops in the early church. So, the pope’s statements were not little lies; they were big ones that have been repeated for centuries in the church.
The pope continued by asking, “Do we merely sense a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas?” That is an interesting question. Since the hierarchy has inserted words in Jesus’ mouth that he never said to justify retaining their traditions, one could ask a similar question about the pope and his predecessors, “Do we merely sense a desperate push to do something to retain the Church in accordance with the hierarchy’s own preferences and ideas?”
This also causes one to wonder if Pope Benedict learned more from the Nazi Party while he was in Hitler’s Youth than he might care to admit. The pope belonged to Hitler’s Youth during his formative years and it is reasonable to believe that, at a minimum, unconsciously this impacted his philosophy.
The Nazis thrived by successfully using the “Big Lie” propaganda theory that if you repeat an outlandish falsehood aggressively and often enough, people will believe it. They outlandishly accused their opponents of committing the atrocities against them that they actually committed against their opponents. And people wanting to blame others for their troubles rather than accept accountability, believed them.
The church hierarchy blames others for their woes, trying to fashion themselves into sacrificial victims instead of aggressors. They discriminate and cry they are victims of discrimination. Their policies and practices drive people away from the church but they blame others for luring people away. They stifle religious liberty but cry their religious liberties are threatened. They foster an environment in which abusers operate, yet attack abuse victims who try to shed light on the issue. These seem to be tactics to rally the faithful to defend the church by portraying it as being under attack. They seem to regularly employ the “Big Lie” propaganda theory.
I also cannot help but see parallels between the church hierarchy’s tactics and a statement Hitler’s propagandist, Joseph Goebbels made, “Man only honors what he conquers or defends.” Goebbels’ propaganda machine fed on portraying the aggressor as a victim under attack, trusting that people would feel a sense of affirmation and accomplishment by playing the chivalrous role of defender. Thus, faking an attack on one’s self is a desperate but sometimes effective way to gain sympathy and support.
That is not the only parallel I see between Pope Benedict’s philosophy and that of Goebbels. Another one of Goebbels’ quotes is, “Today there seems to be only one absolute thing: relativism.” Goebbels blamed “relativism” for Germany’s woes. Pope Benedict has a slightly modified version blaming “moral relativism” for much of what ails the world and church.
Actually, much of this pope’s actions both now and when he led the Office for the Doctrine of Faith seem to be a desperate push to retain his preferences and ideas. He donates his multi-million dollar annual income to a charity to promote his theological views. He summarily dismisses without due process anyone who even remotely threatens his preferences and ideas, having censured scores of the faithful for the tragic sin of disagreeing with him.
It is difficult to know exactly what Jesus actually said or did. But we take the gospel messages in faith not as historic or scientific revelations. In faith, we believe Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep. He didn’t tell the sheep to obey Peter. Why does the pope fixate on the latter to the neglect of the former? We believe in faith that he told his disciples to leave their flock to find the lost sheep. He didn’t tell them to drive sheep they think are inferior from the flock. Why do church leaders exert so much effort on the latter and so little effort on the former? We believe in faith that Jesus told women to proclaim the gospel and chastised the male apostles for not believing them. He didn’t tell the men, “Don’t you ever ordain a woman and this is irrevocable guys.” Why does the pope insist on the latter to the neglect of the former? Why can’t women even proclaim the gospel at Mass, as Mary Magdalene did that first Easter?
Do we prefer the ease of blaming others for our woes rather than accept responsibility? How much are we swayed by propaganda that turns aggressors into victims?
Who is actually guilty of a “desperate push” to promote their ideas and preferences?