Sunday, September 2, 2007

The History of Jesus Christ

THE HISTORY of a man is the inscription of his personality on his time, and the deciphering of that inscription. Most men barely have a history; they leave on the sands of time the faint tracings of an insect. But some go deeper, reach the rock, rend it, hollow it out, shape it, and their course is indelible.

A history of Napoleon exists. We also have Napeloen's memoirs. No one interested in the subject could neglect Napoleon's own point of view about himself and his life. Jesus Christ left no memoirs, but an idea of His personal view of Himself can be formed from what the Gospels tell us about His actions, gestures, and words.

One peculiarity strikes us at once. All through the Gospels a single question keeps returning to Jesus again and again like the flood tide recurrently seeking a cliff. "Who are You? Who do You say that You are? Are You He that is to come, or must we wait for another? Explain what You mean about Yourself." Friends, enemies -- everyone, at one time or another, puts this question to Him; He Himself sometimes puts it to others: "Who do you believe that I am?" Not Socrates, not Alexander, not Napoleon was asked who he was; men thought they knew, and, in effect, they did.

It seems that Jesus took pleasure in evoking and maintaining this atmosphere of interrogation about His origins and His true mission. His replies were not always clear, sometimes they sidestepped the question, somtimes He replied in riddles or in parables, but He made sure the question would be repeated.

One day He gave an astounding reply. "Before Abraham was," He said, "I am." A speech with which no utterance of any other man can be compared, a speech impossible for an Evangelist to invent if it had not been said by Him Who had the right to say it. A speech in which without warning eternity erupts into time. A false evangelist, wishing to magnify his hero to the dimensions of eternity, would have made the tenses agree; he would have written: "Before Abraham was, I was." The tranquil affirmation of that solemn present, prior to Abraham, I am, has an authority that takes one's breath.

"Before Abraham was, I am." That present tense, which breaks the sentence, that present, all alone, agreeing with nothing but its subject, must have evoked in the minds of its hearers the famous sentence in which God defines Himself outside of time: "I am He that am." Therefore, when St. John in his old age returns in memory to what he has seen and heard, it is quite natural for him to choose a starting point outside time. "In the beginning," he says "was the Word. And the Word dwelt with God. And the Word was God.... And the Word was made flesh. And He pitched his tent among us. And we saw His glory."

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