Friday, July 28, 2006

My Words Will Not Pass

Jesus has said many things that indicate his divinity. Some things would be the height of hubris if He were not in fact the Son of God. But since He is, let us listen with reverence and faith to one such saying: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass” (Matthew 24:35). Those of us who maintain blogs know that our words pass every day! But how shall we understand what Jesus has said?

First of all, I think ought to reflect on how seriously we take Jesus’ words and put them into practice. If his words outlast even the heavens and the earth—for “the word of the Lord endures forever” (1Peter 1:25)—then they speak to you and me, for they are valid for all times and all places. Some people try to relativize his words by saying that He was a man of his time and culture and as such his words (at least some of them) aren’t binding upon us. Hmm. “In the beginning was the Word.” The Son of God always was and always will be, so his appearance as a man in first-century Palestine did not put such severe blinders on him. Of course, he spoke in a way readily understandable to the people of that time, but since He transcends all times and cultures, He was also able to do so in a way that disallows any dismissal of his words as some long-ago and far-away phenomenon.

On the other hand, to believe in his words and yet use them as mere proof-texts for debates or polemics is also to miss the point of his ever-enduring words. Jesus’ words are spirit and life, not semantic hammers for leveling the opposition. Then again, some try to pit Paul’s words against Jesus’ words—and even, in practice, accord them greater authority!—as if the Gospels were somehow only an incomplete prelude to the Apostles’ teachings. Yet Jesus is the Word of God in person. I guess certain theological positions seem to them better defended by Paul. Then others more or less simply abandon Jesus’ words and debate about theological or philosophical issues that have only a tenuous relationship to the living word of God.

I think we may need a fresh listening to the words of Jesus, a return to the Gospels in all their vigor and spirit. To say that Jesus’ words will not pass does not merely mean that they’ll always be enshrined in some archeological museum for the interest of future generations. It means they have ever-active wisdom and power to make or break kingdoms, nations, and hearts. It means they can enlighten, strengthen, motivate, and guide us to salvation. It means they will stand as our judge on the Last Day (see John 12:48).

We ought to avoid a fundamentalist literalism but also a too-allegorical or esoteric reading. Putting on the mind of Christ, of his Spirit and his Church, we ought simply to sit at the feet of the Master and try to hear his voice in our hearts as we read the Gospels, to see his words reflected in the lives of the saints, and to let them reverberate in our own actions. Some of his words are clear and direct and admit no misinterpretation. Others seem obscure or shrouded in mystery, and require much pondering and prayer. But all of them are our food and our life-support.

It’s easy to see how our lives pass, the days and years, our health, our energy, even all the creation around us. He who made all things does not pass away, and if we embrace his enduring word with love and fidelity, He will take us to Himself, that we too may abide in Him forever.