An observation on Alexandra Lovell’s commentary on Joseph Veneroso’s piece “The mystery of the rolled-away stone” by Joseph Veneroso in NCR (3/31/13). The following is Alexandra’s comment.
[“Why would God (by any name) reveal truth to some people, but not to everyone, yet hold us all accountable for living by that truth?”]
Alexandra, you have brought up a very neuralgic issue for believers. The following considerations are meant to provide a positive perspective on the issue you raise. From our earliest sources about Jesus and Christianity with serious time gaps as part of the picture, Jesus himself offered a succinct but quite positive message to his followers. By living his “way” they would contribute to the establishment of the Kingdom of his Father God. The Our Father, the only prayer he taught us at the request of his disciples, tells us what to ask of his Father as workers towards his Reign. Although brief, it lays out the essence of his message. It is very positive and consists of establishing the conditions here on earth for his Father’s socio-economic Reign made possible only through a serious conversion of his followers’ hearts and eventually all his followers. The message calls for bringing about a basic dignity for all men: give us this day our daily bread and striving for harmony among men and their institutions: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us. There are no prohibitions or negative threats except to pray not to be tempted and avoid evil: and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
It is crucial to keep in mind that the later theologizing by St. Paul and the gospels’ accounts, two to six decades after the crucifixion were oriented to establishing an institutional identity within Christian communities. Given the Jewish heritage and environment, famous for its layer upon layer of prescriptive behavior, it was natural and expected of the nascent communities of believers, to lay down rules for modes of behavior to distinguish themselves as a separate religious movement. Although there is no historical proof for Jesus’ founding of the church, it would be expected to attribute the origin for behavioral restrictions found in early church documents to Jesus who was considered the leader of a distinctive group within the ancient Jewish community of faith. To be expected the prescriptive aspects of the early church were built on the divinity of the Christ, Risen from the dead, a much more winning appeal for survival, than the prophetic call to a Kingdom that would challenge the Pax Romana by a Galilean preaching to his fellow peasants. Their writings were based on word of mouth handed down for decades and naturally colored by the religious enthusiasm, the culture and mindset of the writers. This would be true of the writers, all urban dwellers like St. Paul, a well educated Pharisee, the equivalent of a modern theologian, the scribe who wrote the gospel of Matthew, and Luke an educated physician.
Although many (maybe most?) biblical scholars hold that Jesus was among those that anticipated an early apocalypse, Jesus himself was observant enough to realize that God’s Reign as his Father wanted, given the political context and socio-economic domination of the Pax Romana of first quarter century Palestine, if not achieved through his second coming, be a long-term, from the bottom up proposition that would require a serious change of heart not only of his peasant, riff-raff listeners, but seismic changes in the political and economic forces far beyond his world. However, that was the Father’s message which he felt compelled to preach, even though it had to have been a mysterious conundrum for Jesus himself. At one point Jesus expressed his puzzlement when after stunning his disciples by stating it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to be saved.” He added that “All things are possible with God,” his Father of course.
Despite the negative realities of the world we live in after 2000 years I personally think we have come a long way in establishing God’s Reign. Maybe in another 2000 years Jesus’ message will achieve its full fruit. Jesus’ message, then, was that everyone according to his/her lights, their knowledge and abilities, or lack of them would somehow see others as their brothers or sisters. All men are called to work for the Father’s Kingdom “…on earth as it is in heaven.”