Monday, May 09, 2005

What About Jesus?

The first disciples of Jesus did not believe he was the Messiah because of any theological or philosophical reasoning. Nor did they believe as the result of a reading of Old Testament prophesies or because some human authority told them that he was the Messiah. Rather, the first disciples believed in Jesus because they had an encounter, or a series of encounters with him. Through their own experiences, they came to know, in their head and heart, that Jesus was the One.

I am struck by the similarity of I John to the philosophical approach of Fr. Luigi Giussani. Let us look at the beginning of I John 1, verses 1-4: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life--for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us-- what we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.”

In the above one can see the emphasis on the encounter, as well as of realism and the importance of openness to experience that are emphasized by Fr. Luigi Giussani. From p.17 of The Religious Sense: “Imagine Peter, John, and Andrew before Jesus of Nazareth. They knew his mother, father, and relatives; they fished and ate with him. At some point, it became evident to them that they could say of this man: “If I should not believe this man, then I should not even believe my own eyes.”

How can we have an encounter with Jesus now? The only means available to us are by proxy through the word of God in the New Testament or through the church. The experience of reading the Bible lacks the immediacy of having been there in person 2,000 years ago, and the church is composed of lukewarm and flawed human beings and institutions. Those of a strictly biblical tradition will emphasize the New Testament. Others may emphasize the church more. However, the historical Jesus is a fact, and anyone who has ever thought about ultimate reality must decide what to make of the man Jesus.