I recently heard a distinguished professor of religion and ethics discuss some of the more complicated elements of the New Testament. He was a fantastic speaker and knew his material so well he needed no notes and spoke almost nonstop for two hours, holding his audience of students spellbound with both his knowledge and humor.
My favorite moment was when he spoke about the body after resurrection.
“And then there’s the question, what is going on with the body after resurrection? Jesus has a body. But he seems to walk through walls. Then he sits down to eat a meal with his disciples. I guess the food is disappearing and going somewhere….and then he apparently meets up with people who know him and they don’t recognize him. They don’t recognize him? Hello? Why not? Is he wearing Groucho glasses?”
The class fell out laughing, but it’s a serious question. What does this mean anyway?
Our professor suggested this: “Maybe when you read something in ancient texts, and it doesn’t make any sense, maybe just maybe you’re not focused on what the writer is really trying to tell you.” Of course, his big maybe was a polite and gentle way of saying that people get into all kinds of arguments about things that are not really the point.
I get nervous sometimes writing about my personal beliefs about God, in part because we do tend to focus on the wrong things. I worry that if express my questions and doubts in a public way that I will be judged, excluded, and distrusted. I just read about someone I consider to be a very interesting thinker (John Dominic Crossan, link updated April 2021)) who gets a lot of blowback for questioning some “unquestionable” tenets of the Christian belief system.
I don’t know that I am with Crossan or not, as I have not read his work; but I know myself, and from what I have read I am fascinated. I also want him and anyone else to ask these questions, to talk about history and scholarship, and to facilitate an open conversation. I think our understanding of history, of ancient cultures and people, of spirituality and religion, and of the human experience is only enriched by our ability to have respectful dialogue about the most mysterious questions.
Mother Theresa had doubts. It’s rational to admit that if she felt this way and struggled, then there is no one who doesn’t hit the wall. To some extent I think the closer to the teachings of Jesus one tries to live, the more logical it is that doubts and questions will arise. Is this really how I’m supposed to do it, because this is very often not one bit of fun, and I’m not sure anything is getting better for anyone as a result. Do I understand this right? I really, really don’t want to be doing this the wrong way, or it’s all for nothing. (I think JC had that moment himself, as I recall…..hmmmm…….)
I like the idea from the lecture I attended, and from Crossnan. If it doesn’t make sense, the answer may not be I need to “have more faith.” Maybe, just maybe, I’m not paying attention to the right thing. More egos in the religious community need to allow for that very real possibility.
This Easter I’ll be on the lookout for my best understanding of the man we call Jesus of Nazareth. Note to self: If I don’t see him, it’s probably not because he’s wearing Groucho glasses.
Image credit: 3oneseven