Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

He won’t be found among the dead

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the April 27, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky We do indeed live in interesting and anchorless times. People often complain that they don’t know what to believe anymore – or even whom to believe.

Although a bit exaggerated, the complaint is not without some substance. Especially in our culture since the increasingly distant days of the Watergate scandal, for example, no one in a position of authority seems to merit trust. Be he or she a parent, a doctor, a policeman or a priest, all are held at a distance with an eye of suspicion.

On the other hand, oddly, anyone who seems to buck authority or at least to stand counter to a traditional “party line” receives accolades as new-sung hero and defender of truth, goodness and beauty itself.

No wonder then, that media asteroids like The Da Vinci Code and now The Gospel of Judas attract so much attention – and are accepted unquestionably as gospel truth by so many. Yes, that’s the point: They both purport to be the true renditions of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – 2,000 years of discerning faith development by innumerable women, men and children notwithstanding. Just because some (admittedly talented) novelist writes something or because a document is proved to be ancient, they are given a Gospel authority which they simply do not possesses.

This all came home to me recently in a conversation with one of my friends. She asked me (in full sincerity) if I personally thought it was possible that Jesus had married Mary Magdalene and that they had had children, as The Da Vinci Code purports. Without blinking an eye I responded with feigned equal sincerity, “Yes, of course!” And then quickly added: “They also ran a turkey farm three miles south of Nazareth and cultivated a marijuana patch on the side.”

The look of disbelief was quite noticeable. Which gave the opportunity to push the matter a step deeper: “You seem to want to believe Dan Brown (the novel’s author) but not me, whom you have known for many years now?!”

We both had a long laugh – but the point was made.

The dynamics afoot nowadays merit careful examination. Reflection brings to light the subtle corrosion of our Christian faith. If we can nail down all the possible biographical details about Jesus of Nazareth – or at least twist or debunk them – then we can establish his location in history and leave him there. (Just wait until someone claims to have found Jesus’ grave!) And more…. if by contrived and sometimes self-serving “research” we can identify Jesus with the sinful sleaze-pots of money, flesh and perversion, indeed, his moral credibility is destroyed. With such a savior “justifiably” tossed out of mind and culture, we would be free to go our own way.

All of this media-warped notion of Jesus, of course, works to the detriment of genuine Christian spirituality, which is rooted in a relationship with a real person, Jesus of Nazareth. Most of the details of his historical life are lost forever, hidden in the sands of time and the complex, layered testimony of the believing community. Papyri like the Gospel of Judas (and other similar apocryphal writings) are useful discoveries – but there are reasons why they do not have the testimonial authority of the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

In a sense, the continuing banter over the biographical details of a man of the past creates only more emptiness. The man who stands at the center of Christian faith is not a dead man, but a living, risen Savior who remains present among his disciples. The Good News about him does not just titillate the imagination, but transforms the world.

The important question for the contemporary man or woman is whether or not Jesus had red hair, perhaps drove a BMW, told Judas special secrets or had five brothers and three sisters. To establish any of these as the basis for gospel truth is a search for Jesus among the dead.

There is but one Gospel – God’s saving good news incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. The proclamation of the Easter message is that this Jesus is not dead but alive! We’ll find him in Galilee where we first encountered him – that is, in the midst of our ordinary daily lives – where imaginations can run wild, but where true life is found in loving and saving relationships.

The news that Jesus is not dead, but alive, continues to haunt the human consciousness. If what is claimed of him over 2,000 years of Christian witness and testimony is true – and it is! – personal lives have to change accordingly. Jesus, the risen Lord, continues to make a difference to scores of millions whose hearts are open and who are willing to find Jesus, not among the dead, but among his living people whose Spirit gives them life.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.) (Download an order form in pdf format to print)

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