. . . looks like he has trouble rising from bed, let alone rising from the dead.
Yes, folks, it’s this year’s Newsweek cover story on Christianity for Holy Week. This year the honors fall to deeply confused Catholic Andrew Sullivan. The marketing-department-inspired cover text informs us we should follow Jesus and forget the Church.
But Sullivan’s article is barely about that at all. He is all about finding the “real Jesus.” He speaks of approval of Thomas Jefferson’s Bible, the one where the great Founding Father took a pair of scissors to all those parts of the New Testament he didn’t like, including the miracles, the supernatural claims of Jesus and his Resurrection. What was left was the moral sage. (Come to think of it, Jefferson could be considered the first member of the Jesus Seminar).
Sullivan would accept more of the real Jesus than Jefferson would. He says, parenthetically, that he does accept the Resurrection, but the Resurrection, in his conception of Jesus, is purely marginal, a kind of “add-on” you can have if you insist. His Jesus is fundamentally the moral teacher who lived a life of complete rejection of wealth, who practiced complete nonviolence of forgiveness for all, who forgave even his killers. On the other hand, he apparently never mentioned sin at all, so he never would have brought up homosexuality or abortion, or any of those other things benighted “conservative” Christians obsess about and make themselves and us miserable over. . . (did I mention that Sullivan is a practicing homosexual?). The author never says whether or not he thinks Jesus founded a Church for us to ignore, though as a Catholic, he should know the answer very well.
But back to the cover. This washed-out, wimpy Jesus with the beatific idiot’s gaze is the one they want us to follow? The stoned-looking guy with an expression that’s a cross between “Bless you all my friends” and “Uh, why am I here again”?
The picture of Jesus Christ I prefer is the one below, the one I put up for Easter. The Christ who stands astride the realm of death, like a super-hero rescuer, grabbing people and sending them flying from the grave with both hands. Those Byzantine painters really knew what the message of Christ was. “I am risen and I will raise you too!”
If we are brave enough to accept the whole New Testament, we will get this. Along with the message of Christ about sin that is the prelude to salvation. And along with those other things that Sullivan and Jefferson cherish. But of course we, all of us, who by nature would rather pick and choose, will also have to accept things that are tough, teachings that mean we, not just the nasty rest of the world, will have to change. It’s called honesty, folks.
I love what Fr. Barron wrote about this story:
. . . a proposal like Sullivan’s. . . offers absolutely no challenge to the powers that be. It is precisely the bland and harmless version of Christianity with which the regnant culture is comfortable.
Go back to Peter’s sermon for a moment. “You killed him,” said the chief of Jesus’s disciples. The “you” here includes the power structures of the time, both Jewish and Roman, which depended for their endurance in power on their ability to frighten their subjects through threats of lethal punishment.
“But God raised him.” The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the clearest affirmation possible that God is more powerful than the corrupt and violent authorities that govern the world — which is precisely why the tyrants have always been terrified of it. When the first Christians held up the cross, the greatest expression of state-sponsored terrorism, they were purposely taunting the leaders of their time: “You think that frightens us?”
The opening line of the Gospel of Mark is a direct challenge to Rome: “beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1). “Good news” (euangelion in Mark’s Greek) was a term used to describe an imperial victory. The first Christian evangelist is saying, not so subtly, that the real good news hasn’t a thing to do with Caesar.
Rather, it has to do with someone whom Caesar killed and whom God raised from the dead. And just to rub it in, he refers to this resurrected Lord as the “Son of God.” Ever since the time of Augustus, “Son of God” was a title claimed by the Roman emperor. Not so, says Mark. The authentic Son of God is the one who is more powerful than Caesar.
Again and again, Sullivan says that he wants a Jesus who is “apolitical.” Quite right — and that’s just why the cultural and political leaders of the contemporary West will be perfectly at home with his proposal. A defanged, privatized, spiritual teacher poses little threat to the status quo.
But the Son of God, crucified under Pontius Pilate and risen from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit, is a permanent and very dangerous threat. That’s why I will confess that I smiled a bit at Andrew Sullivan as I read his article. Like the young Thomas Jefferson, I’m sure he thinks he’s being very edgy and provocative. Au contraire, in point of fact.
Go and read the rest here: “Andrew Sullivan’s Non-Threatening Jesus.”
Oh, and the Church? Jesus founded one (see Mt. 16:18). And he is serious about us belonging to it.