The MOST Theological Collection: Outline of Christology

"XV. The Mode of His Teaching"


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If we follow the chronology of St. Mark - we are not sure, for the synoptics do not always follow chronological order, and they do not always agree on the sequence of things - we find that already in chapter 1. 21 f. f He is teaching quite clearly. At Capernaum they were astonished since He taught with authority, in contrast to the way the scribes taught. We know the way the scribes and rabbis taught. They would constantly lean on previous teachers, and often Rabbi C would say in the name of Rabbi B, who might be repeating Rabbi A. But Jesus instead taught clearly and with authority, as if to say: This is it!. The people were not used to such forthright teaching and they were astonished.

Right after that He cast out a demon who said He was "the Holy One of God." That would not have to mean divinity, but would mean someone specially consecrated to God. He refused to let the demon speak. Soon He cured a leper and at once charged the leper to keep silent. This was the Messianic secret, about which we will speak later on.

Next, at the start of chapter 2, He cures the paralytic let down through the roof, and does not enjoin silence on him. Conflicts with the scribes and pharisees begin at once. They did not know there could be delegated power to forgive sins. No ancient prophet had claimed to forgive sins. But He did enough to prove He had forgiven, by asking: Which is easier, to say sins are forgiven, or take your bed and go. He meant He was doing the one to prove the other. (The words: "That you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins," may be by the editor rather than by Jesus. We are not certain).

Next He calls Levi/Matthew, and eats with the publicans. His enemies are shocked. He says He came not to call the righteous but sinners. Next: Why do not your disciples fast, while the Pharisees fast, and the disciples of John fast. He explains He is the bridegroom. When He is gone they will fast.

When His disciples are criticized for plucking grain on the sabbath, He clearly says He is the Lord of the Sabbath!

At the start of chapter 3 He cures a man with a withered hand on the sabbath, and the Pharisees want to destroy Him. He heals many, then chooses the twelve.

Right after this He is so intent on teaching that those about Him [the hoi par autou we saw earlier in XIV] think Him mad.

But now comes the critical point. His enemies charge He casts out satan by satan. He says this is the unpardonable sin -for there is such hardness involved that it is unlikely they would ever repent. But at once he shifts His teaching mode, and turns to parables.

Mark reports it thus. To the Apostles He says: "To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God; but to those outside, all things are in parables, so that seeing they may see, but not perceive; and hearing they may hear, but not understand, so that at no time should they be converted and their sins would be forgiven." This makes it sound as if the purpose of the parables was to blind His hearers. Luke's language is similar to that of Mark, it seems that such is the purpose of parables. But Matthew has a softer version: "Therefore do I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand."

All three are based on Isaiah 6. 9-10. God has just appointed Isaiah a prophet, and He told Him in the form of a command: "Go and say to this people. Really hear, but do not understand, and really see, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people thick, and make their ears heavy and shut their eyes, so that they may not see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn and be healed."

The first thing to remember is the Hebrew pattern in which God is said to directly do things He only permits. For example in 1 Sam. 4. 3, after a defeat by the Philistines, the Jews said: "Why did God strike us today before the face of the Philistines?" [literal Hebrew. NAB masks it. ] Again, in the account of the plagues before the Exodus, a few times Pharaoh was on the point of letting them go, but then changed. Exodus sometimes says the king hardened his own heart (e.g., Ex. 8. 15), at other times, God hardened his heart (e. g, Ex 7. , 3: "I will harden Pharaoh's heart."). Similarly in Amos 3. 6: "If evil happens to a city, has not the Lord caused it?" And Is 63. 17:" Why do you make us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts?"

Not surprisingly, scholars differ in their interpretations of the Gospel lines citing Isaiah. But there is a better way to understand. In God, there are no real distinctions, He is absolutely one. It is only our thoughts that add lines within Him. Hence 1 John 4. 8 does not say that God has love, but that He is love. To say He has love would be to suppose a duality: He and His love. Of course, the same way of speaking applies to all divine attributes. So He is justice, He is mercy, etc. Then we would conclude that in Him, mercy and justice are identified. Yet to us they seem opposites. How can this be?

Let us imagine a man who has never been drunk before, but tonight he becomes very drunk. The next day he will have guilt feelings - for it is the first time. It is a sort of clash of two voices within him: the voice of his beliefs says to get drunk is seriously wrong; the voice of his actions says it is all right. Our nature abhors such a clash, and works to get rid of it. In time, something will give: either he will align his actions with his beliefs, or he will continue to get drunk, and his beliefs will be pulled to match his actions. So if we tried to tell a confirmed drunkard that it is wrong, he would not agree. Further, since other moral truths are tied together with this belief, he may lose his insight into other religious things, even into doctrinal things. We might compare this picture to a spiral, which becomes larger as it goes out, and feeds on itself. So he becomes less and less perceptive, more and more blind.

There is a spiral in the good direction. If a person lives vigorously according to faith, which tells us this world is of little account compared to the future life (cf. Philippians 3. 8 where St. Paul says that in comparison to having Christ, all else is rubbish, or dung), then his spiritual insight grows greater and greater.

We return to the bad spiral. The person is growing more and more blind. That is justice, he has earned that. Yet it is also mercy, for the more one understands of the things of God, the greater his guilt if he sins. So in one and the same action we see both mercy and justice.

In the good spiral, the person's spiritual vision is growing. In a sense we can call that justice, something merited. Yet in the most basic sense, no one by his own powers can establish a claim on God: all is generosity, or mercy. So again in one and the same action we see both mercy and justice.

Within God Himself these are identified. We can see somewhat how they are identified in God's actions.

Now the parables admirably serve this two-sided mode of action. Those hearers of Jesus who were well disposed, would get increasing truth; those who were ill-disposed would be blinded still more. To the Apostles He revealed the full meaning, so that they, at the opportune time, could make use of it in their teaching.

We might add the comment of Pius XII (Divino afflante Spiritu EB 563: "The Fathers, and especially Augustine, pointed out that God deliberately sprinkled the books which He inspired with difficulties, so that we would be driven to read and study them more attentively, and by experiencing in a wholesome way the limits of our minds, might be trained in due humility of mind."

Also, it may be that at a later time of His public life, Jesus used parables easier to understand. For then the malice of His enemies had hardened, and there was no chance of their conversion. A good example would be the parable of the wicked tenants, especially as told in Matthew 21. 33-45. At the end, the Pharisees saw that He was speaking of them. He had said the tenants killed servants and even the only son. And at the end: "The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation that will bear a rich return." It was the tragic announcement that the kingdom - obviously the status of being the People of God, the Church - would be taken from them, and given to those who would bear fruit. So kingdom in this text clearly means the Church on earth. To say the "reign of God " would be taken from them would make no sense at all.

Several other parables also let us see that often - not always, for ancient words commonly had a broad range of meanings - kingdom of God means the Church in this or in the next world. Thus the parable of the net in Mt 13. 47-50 speaks of the present Church which contains both good and bad. They will be sorted out at the end. Similarly, the parable of the weeds in the wheat in Mt 13. 24-30 refers to the Church in this world, with the harvest meaning the final judgment. Again, Mt 13. 31 on the mustard seed pictures the rapid growth of the Church in the present.