The MOST Theological Collection: An Introduction to Christian Philosophy

"Chapter IV: Jesus the Divine Teacher"


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Jesus as a Teacher in Israel

It helps much to know what the Jewish background of culture and thought was of His time, for He grew up so normally that when in His public life He began to manifest His power and wisdom, the people of His home town, Nazareth, found it too much for them. In Matthew 13. 54-57 when he preached in the synagogue at Nazareth they said: "Where did He get this wisdom and these marvels? Is He not the carpenter's son?" So He must have refrained from showing His wisdom and power until the start of His public life, except for the brief flash among the teachers in the Temple at age 12.

But His Mother knew all along who and what He was. As soon as the Archangel told her that her Son would reign over the house of Jacob forever, she could not help knowing that He was to be the Messiah. For most Jews then believed the Messiah, and no one else, would reign forever. Then all the Old Testament prophecies would open up to her, if not that same moment, at least while she was "pondering in her heart." And from the words of the Archangel telling her He would be conceived when the Holy Spirit would "overshadow" her, she would recognize that word as the one used to describe the Divine Presence filling the ancient Tabernacle in the desert (Exodus 40.34). And the angel told her that "for this reason" her Son would be called Son of God - a strictly unique reason. At this point she almost certainly knew His divinity. She would at least in pondering in her heart relate this to Isaiah 9.5-6, which the Targums knew was Messianic, and see that the Messiah was called in it "God the Mighty". (The Jews had trouble with that verse because of the monotheism hammered into them, and so probably tended to distort it. But she, full of grace, would not labor under that obstacle. And there were other texts which the Targums recognized as Messianic, such as Jeremiah 30.11 in which God said; "I am with you to save you." Or Jeremiah 23.3 where God said: "And I myself shall gather the remnant of my sheep." Similarly, in Ezekiel 34.11 God said: "Behold I,I will search out my sheep and seek them out".

Jesus as a Prophet in Israel

Jesus had not only the light the prophets had, but His human soul, from the first instant of conception, saw the vision of God, in which all knowledge is contained. We know this because of repeated teachings of the Popes, especially the explicit words of Pius XII in his Encyclical on the Mystical Body in which the Pope taught that because of this vision, from the first instant of conception, He knew individually every member of His Mystical Body. In fact, even without the help of the Popes, theological reasoning should show us the same thing. For we know that any soul in the state of grace will have the beatific vision if the divinity joins itself directly to the soul without even an image in between, since no image could represent God. Now in Jesus this was inevitable, because not only His human mind and soul, but His whole humanity was joined even more closely to the divine nature in the hypostatic union, so that there was only one Person present, a Divine Person. No wonder then that the crowds were in admiration, as Matthew 7.28-29 says, for His teaching was with authority, not like that of the scribes. The scribes in a plodding manner said that Rabbi A said one thing, but Rabbi B said another, and so on. But Jesus told them: "You have heard it was said to them of old... but I say to you...."

Jesus' Doctrine Concerning God

He taught that the first and greatest commandment was to love the Lord God with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their mind (Mt.22.37-40). But He added that the second commandment is like to the first: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself". Leviticus 19.18 had commanded love of neighbor, but the Jews did not understand that meant everyone, they tended to think of it as including only fellow countrymen.

He spoke often of God as "your Father", but never included Himself in the group by saying "Our Father" except when He taught them to use those words in prayer. For He was gradually revealing who He was, by the mysterious title of Son of Man, which would evoke the figure of Daniel 7.13-14; by accepting the title of Messiah at times, by claiming to have authority over the sacred Torah - a thing no prophet had dared to claim - by saying He was greater than Jonah, than Solomon, than the Temple, by claiming authority to forgive sins - again, a thing no prophet would have dared to claim - by saying He was to be the eschatological judge. Finally, near the end, as it seems, He openly said: "Before Abraham was, I AM, (John 8.57). No Jew could miss the import of the words "I am". He also said "I and the Father are one.(John 10.30)."

He proved He had such powers by means of miracles worked in special frameworks, that is, with a tie between the miracle and the claim, as when in Mark 2 he cured the paralytic and asked: "Which is easier to say, your sins are forgiven, or take up your bed and walk. He meant obviously they could not check to see if the sins were forgiven, but they could see the man take his bed and go - so He did the one to prove He had done the other.

Jesus' Apostles and their Worldwide Mission

Jesus had a smaller circle on the crowds that followed Him -we would expect that. And He spoke more to them of course, and told them to continue His work, His teaching - we would expect that too. Still further, He promised God would protect that teaching, e.g., "He who hears you, hears me, he who rejects you rejects me; he who rejects me rejects Him who sent me." Some Protestant commentaries try to devalue this text saying that Jesus identified Himself with the poor, and this is more of the same. Now it is true, He did identify with the poor, but He identified with them as poor. With His teachers He identified with them as teachers. He also said in regard to teaching correct morals: "If he will not hear the church, let him be to you as a heathen and a publican" (Matthew 18.17). Really, since we know He was a messenger sent from God, it is to be expected He would provide this sort of protection to keep His Church the way He founded it, the way He intended it to teach. Surely he would not allow it to teach a false way to salvation throughout most of 15 centuries, as Luther claimed!

Some Protestants argue that this commission was only for one generation. Strange that God would become incarnate and go so far for just one generation!. His promise to Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matt 16.18) implies continuity to the end of time. In Matthew 28.20 He explicitly said He would be with them all days, even to the end of the world. The parables of the weeds and of the net clearly imply the same.

The Church from the start understood that He was the Suffering Servant foretold in Isaiah 53 .And they understood His command at the Last Supper, "Do this in memory of me." For they began to carry it out at once.

That was the making of the New Covenant, foretold by Jeremiah 31.31-33. In the covenant of Sinai, there were two features, a People of God was created, who were to receive favor on condition of obedience (Exodus 19.5). The same was true of the making of the New Covenant, in which His obedience to the will of the Father that He should die on the morrow, was expressed by the seeming separation of body and blood in the two species. The next day He fulfilled the pledge thus made.

This New Covenant is also a sacrifice. In every true sacrifice, there are two things, the outward sign, and the interior dispositions. The outward sign is there to express, and perhaps even promote, the interior. The interior was obedience, for obedience was the covenant condition. Hence Vatican II in LG ยง 3 said "by His obedience He brought about redemption." St. Paul said the same in Romans 5.19. The outward sign on Holy Thursday was, as we said, the seeming separation of His body and blood;, on Friday, it was the physical separation of the same. Today in the Mass the sign is the same as on Holy Thursday. The interior disposition of His heart was obedience on that Thursday evening. That obedience continued on Friday. It continues even today, for death makes permanent the attitude of soul with which one leaves this world. The outward sign is multiplied with each Mass, but the interior is not multiplied as far as the offering of Christ the Head is concerned, it is merely continued. However, the members of Christ are called on to join their obedience to His at the moment of the twofold consecration. This is the essential participation. If one has only the exterior, in answering prayers, singing etc., God might well say what He once complained through Isaiah 29.13: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Right after that, God announced that because of this emptiness, wisdom would leave the wise. A frightening thought!

Thus we have a sort of fulfillment of the words of the prophet Malachi 1.11, that from the rising to the setting of the sun, a clean oblation is offered to His name everywhere.