To listen to today’s homily, select the audio file below:
CNN is running a series on Jesus at 9 on Sundays this Lent exploring the usual questions the networks and cable TV like to explore. Did Jesus really exist? Is that his image on the Shroud of Turin? Are other gospels out there that contradict the four we know? Have the archeologists found out anything about him? Was he married?
According to The Hollywood Reporter the CNN series entitled Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact and Forgery was viewed by over 1 million people last week and beat out all other networks. I watched the first episode on the Shroud of Turin last week.
I was glad to see the advice Father James Martin, SJ, offered on the CNN site about a series like this one:
“With Lent beginning, and a new CNN series on Christ coming up, you’re going to hear a lot about Jesus these days. You may hear revelations from new books that purport to tell the “real story” about Jesus, opinions from friends who have discovered a “secret” on the Web about the Son of God, and airtight arguments from co-workers who can prove he never existed.
Beware of most of these revelations; many are based on pure speculation and wishful thinking. Much of what we know about Jesus has been known for the last 2,000 years.”
Father Martin’s right. A lot of the supposed new revelations and new disclosures about Jesus are unproven and based on speculation and wishful thinking. They don’t negate what we have long known about Jesus. So, I’m not waiting for the final word on the Shroud of Turin to decide whether Jesus existed or not.
The media often rely on stuff like this–sometimes true, sometimes not– to get an audience. Ratings are important to them, but it’s not a good idea to rely on CNN or any of the mainstream media as your main source of information about Jesus. You can end up wondering if we can know him at all.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t ask questions or take into account new perspectives and information about Jesus. Not at all. We probably know more about his times and culture than has been known for centuries. We have a better understanding of the bible and the New Testament today, thanks to the efforts of modern scholars. Our challenge today is to incorporate what we know now into the faith we have.
For instance, I can listen to John’s gospel describing Jesus entering the temple in Jerusalem. (the gospel we’re reading the 3rd Sunday of Lent) I can visualize that temple. There’s a wonderful model of it created by archeologists and historians in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. In fact, they have created a model of the whole city of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus.
Dominating the city, the temple was one of the great buildings of the world. It was the religious and political center of the Jewish world of the time. God was present there. It was the center of worship and politics.
When Jesus went into the temple and overturned the tables of the money-changers and those who sold the animals he was challenging the religious and political establishment of his time. It was a dramatic symbolic gesture by which he claimed that the kingdom of God was greater than all the beauty, all the power, all the splendor of our earthly kingdoms. He wasn’t just asking for reform; he was announcing a new world. It was present in him. He was the true temple. In his dying and rising he brought resurrection and new life to our world.
Do I think this happened? Yes, I do. Is this what our gospel today is saying? Yes, it is. Jesus made a tremendous claim during his lifetime. He claimed to be divine, to be God’s Son, to be God himself.
“God from God, light from light” we say in our creed. “Born of the Virgin Mary, he suffered under Pontius Pilate, he was crucified, died and was buried, and on the third day he rose again.”
He will come again to judge the living and the dead. He’s told us there is a forgiveness of sins, a resurrection of the body and life everlasting. He’s with us all days. He’s with us now.