Augustine gave a typically warm and thoughtful homily this morning at Mass. The Gospel passage was from the 11th chapter of Matthew, which portrays Jesus saying some harsh and condemnatory words about the cities of Corazin, Bethseda and Capernaum.
The people in those cities had not repented and Jesus’ words spelled doom for them. There isn’t much, if any, room for getting around the direct hit that Jesus aims at those populations.
Augustine acknowledged the dilemma faced by a modern day mentality that tries to soften the threatening words of Jesus. He held out hope for all of us, saying that God’s grace can and will work wonders for the least of us.
I got to thinking later about the dilemma posed by the contradictory nature of Jesus as given us in the New Testament writings. There are times when He comes across as harsh, seemingly not willing to budge an inch when it comes to calling us all to a change of heart. There are other times when His words brim over the top with mercy and forgiveness.
There are also times when He betrays a sure ignorance as to who He is and what He is about. This stands apart from other passages that have Him very sure-footed and well aware of His mission and place in the scheme of the Father’s plan.
So when you add it all up, it is nearly impossible to get a clear image as to who Jesus really was and to have a consistent personality throughout the four Gospels. Needless to say, many scholars have tried to do just that — pouring through the texts to surface the “real” Jesus. It is an ongoing and ever elusive search.
We believe that Jesus came as one of us. Surely He was prone to moods, forgetfulness, ignorance, occasional disinterest, the trials of waywardness. How could He not know these in His own experience since He was fully human?
Certainly some of the Gospel passages were written well after the fact of Jesus’s life and were re-fashioned, re-worded for catechetical purposes. Truth was heard in His lifetime and it was reformulated in theological terms so as to better grasp the import of whatever Jesus said and how He lived.
Jesus was like us, in “all things but sin.” He gave Himself totally to His Father and to us. We therefore believe that through Him, weakness has taken on a redemptive mission in this life. He bore our failings — and that does not mean that he was free of them Himself.
What it does mean, it seems to me, is that we can learn to live with the contradictions and dilemmas of our own lives. And be more accepting of these human traits as they exist in and, perhaps, vex others.
We live in a time where we want an immediate access to what is good and real about everything. We have very little tolerance for what appear to be shaky and elusive truths.
But we are left with a Jesus who not only confronted us with our own self-serving quests for “truth;” He also taught us that God is in out midst, God lives in everybody, and perhaps, God Himself thrives on difference, contradiction, a plurality of truths.
This is well laid out in the Gospel accounts. Truthfulness becomes an ongoing conversation with God and each other, a conversation that may be fraught with contradictions and dilemmas, but also a conversation that was favored by God, as He listened to the words of His son — and to our own words.
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.