Amusement parks usually have a hall of mirrors in their fun houses. You enter a room and there are mirrors all over the place. When you look at all the reflections surrounding you, it is hard to tell which is the real you, for all the reflections are not exactly the same. It is hard to see which image reflects the nearest or closest likeness of you.
The same might be said of Jesus. Scholars have long sought to isolate the real and true Jesus from all the conflicting sides of His life and message as they are presented in the Gospels. Even with the launching of all the sophisticated methodologies of biblical studies — form criticism, redaction criticism, cultural and historical approaches and the like — it is impossible to secure and hold fast to the one true and consistent Jesus from the many mirrors in which He is reflected in the New Testament.
There is the Gospel story in Matthew, in which Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a man casting a net into the sea. When the net is pulled up, the good fish are separated from the not so good. Jesus implies that there will be a judgment when all is said and done and that some will pass the test and others will flunk. The net cast into the sea might catch every one of us, but the bad among us are headed for misery.
I do not know how this view squares with the Jesus who is merciful and all loving; the Jesus who said that it is the will of His father that nothing be lost; the Jesus who had compassion in abundance for the weak and wayward among us.
Jesus, like us, was a product of His time and place. He spoke in terms of thought that was available to Him, especially religious thought, which was couched in the familiar spiritual terrain of His day. He could not have done otherwise.
I have always thought it strange that Jesus did not condemn slavery. But He was a man of his time, and therefore caught in categories that now seem abhorrent to us.
We are left with an insoluble dilemma if we look to the biblical Jesus for answers to the problems of modern day humanity. That Jesus is silent. We are left with conflicting schemes of salvation and damnation, as if the mirror images of Jesus look kind of the same but are saying very different and conflicting things.
But there is the Jesus of the present, of this moment, who is as present to us as He was to the early church. He lives through us and speaks through us. We, too, have our conflicting theories about nearly everything. But there are words spoken in our midst that bring hope, love, healing and mercy.
We recently celebrated the feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). It is appropriate to rejoice in that we have one of His spiritual sons as pope.
The pope has shown the world in his first year that he listens, he refrains from making judgments, he is closer to street life than palace life, and he speaks from his heart when he shares his joys and sorrows with the world. And people are listening. They are watching and learning.
Jesus was like us. He learned all that He was from people, people who raised Him and loved Him and taught Him the ways of life. One of those ways is listening. I wonder if Jesus ever heard people’s hopes for the salvation of all, the good and the bad? I am sure he did. It is recorded in the Gospels, and reflected in one of the mirrors, the one I think is closest to who He really was and is for us.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.