Tuesday, February 16, 2016

I Stand Alone?

"If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don't like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself."

Recently I was a little more blunt than usual with a friend. We were discussing religion and attending different churches, and he said that for him he'll go so long as they're "Sola Scriptura." We were in a group, so he turned to me and said, "You know what that means, right?"

I stand alone on the Word of God...?

"Sure," I said. "It's wrong, but I know what it means."

Even more extreme is the position I encountered recently in a Facebook discussion on morality and law (will I never learn?). If you must know, the topic was homosexuality. He dismissed the Old Testament for the simple reason that we Christians seem to do that today, but He also dismissed Paul (neither the thieves, drunkards, fornicators, homosexuals...). Because contextually speaking, Paul never met Jesus, and so while he wasn't necessarily wrong about everything, that doesn't mean he was right about everything either.

Ummm...

Well... Okay then... So I asked him what he does believe. What is scripture? What counts?

Well, to my friend, the Word of God is just that: The Word of God. If Jesus didn't say it, it's not absolute. Specifically, Jesus said love your neighbor and said nothing about homosexuality, and if homosexuality were such a big deal he would have said something, but he didn't, so it's not, and even if it is a deal, it's less important than love your neighbor, and you can't be loving if you don't let them call their relationships marriage.

That's a bit of a simplification, but you get the gist.

So the Bible... How did we get here? Awash in a sea of translations, interpretations, understandings, where are we to find the truth?

Let's start with the extreme case - What Jesus Said.

Unfortunately for my friend's hermeneutic, the limiting of the Word of God to things written down in the Gospels and Acts attributed to Jesus is problematic, and quickly fails when we try to use it to deny the validity of the morality given to the chosen people by God through Moses.

Let me put it this way. My parents used to have The Great American Bathroom Book Volume III, a bathroom reader filled with 2 page synopses of various literary and biographical works. Welcome to the Monkey House, The Fall and Decline of the Roman Empire, Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Now, suppose that after reading one of the synopses I went and read the full work. Would I expect the summary to contradict the full work, or to boil it down and try to hit on key points?

In fact, if the summary contradicted the full story (say if a synopsis of MiG Pilot claimed the book was about an American defecting to Russia, and not a Russian defecting to America), it would be a pretty poor summary, wouldn't it?

And yet we find this. Matthew 22.34-40:

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them [a scholar of the law] tested him by asking, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."
Some translations use the term summary. In both senses, however, the Law and Prophets are not seen as opposed or overturned by, but rather found fully in these two commandments.

If that weren't enough, Jesus says explicitly in the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5.17-20:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

As if that weren't enough, my scientifically minded friend knows as well as I that it is impossible to prove a negative, especially when you find passages like John 20.25, the last verse in the Gospel according to John:

There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.

But Our Lord promised not to abandon us, leave us as orphans. The whole discourse on the Advocate in during the last supper, found in John 14.15-31 is worth reading, but I wish to reflect on verse 26 in particular:

The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.

If we have accepted that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father, then we should trust Him when He promises us to be with us always, to send us shepherds, and an Advocate to guide His Church, founded on the Rock of Peter, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. The same Church which composed the New Testament and ratified the Old. The same Church which exercised authority over the disciplines inherited from Judaism (such as circumcision and dietary laws), but upheld the moral laws.

The same Church which today upholds a moral standard against which every nation, every political party, every individual falls short. A moral standard that challenges each and every one of us to dive deeper into a life of justice and mercy for our neighbors, and perhaps more difficultly for ourselves. And not just in regard to the "conservative" ones like opposing same-sex marriage and abortion, and not just the "liberal" ones like improving social services for the poor and ending the death penalty, all four of which are but the most obvious examples of efforts which fall under Catholic social teaching.

As St. Thomas wrote in Adoro Te Devote, "Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius, nil hoc verbo veritatis verius" - I believe all the Son of God has spoken; there is nothing truer than this word of truth. Sometimes put another way, "Truth Itself speaks truly, or there's nothing true." If Jesus is the Word of God, the Son of God, God Incarnate, then that needs to change our lives.

As St. Augustine said, "If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don't like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself."

Do we believe the Gospel?

Or do we believe ourselves?

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