The Word of God

This article will try to answer two fundamental questions: 1) What is the way of Jesus? How did He understand His mission? How did He actually carry it out? 2) What is the way for Christians to follow Jesus? What are Jesus’ norms for His followers? What does it mean to live as a Christian?

The answers to these questions will come directly from the New Testament, which is the Word of God. They will be in the form of simple quotes taken from the Gospels, the Acts, and the Pauline epistles.

Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution, Dei Verbum (the Word of God), was the result of two years of hard-fought argumentation during the council; it clearly affirmed that the Bible is the Word of God and that scholars should use historical criticism and literary criticism in interpreting Scripture. It also formally declared which parts of the Bible are inerrant and teach “truth without error.” The critical text regarding inerrancy in the Bible affirmed: “We must profess that the books of Scripture teach firmly, faithfully and without error the truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, willed to be confided to the sacred writings” (Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1966, p. 823; that is, Dei Verbum, No. 11).

It went on to explain that God used human authors who wrote in a human fashion, and who make mistakes about history, science and cultural norms. Therefore, what they write is inerrant or ‘‘truth without error” only to the extent that it involves the salvific purpose of God. So when the Bible mentions scientific ideas (such as the movement of the sun) or historical records (such as human genealogies or the longevity of individuals) or cultural norms (such as the place of women in society), they are often wrong. But it is inerrant whenever it teaches what God intends for our salvation.

So the only a priori truth of Scripture is that God intends our eternal salvation; that is the certain and supreme truth of all of Scripture. Which truths in Scripture conform to this salvific purpose of God is an a posteriori issue. They are inerrant if they teach what it necessary for our salvation. We cannot claim to know exactly which scriptural truths are willed by God “for the sake of our salvation,” but the message of Jesus, our Savior (see Mt 11:27, and Jn 3:36) and the norms for his followers (see Jn 14:6) must be two of them. With that understanding, we offer these quotes that describe what is the way of Jesus and the way of Christians.

The Way of Jesus

What, then, is the way of Jesus? How did He understand His mission? How did He carry it out? In trying to answer these questions, we need to discover the original message of Jesus in His public life. The Gospels, written many years after the death of Jesus, added many titles to Jesus such as Savior, Messiah and Son of God. In His public life, Jesus personally rejected such titles, because they were so loaded with popular misconceptions. He also refused to accept any notion that He was an authoritarian leader, a powerful king or a ritualistic priest. In John’s Gospel, for example, Jesus explains that He was sent by God “not. . .to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17).

Rather, this is the way Jesus spoke about His way and message:

• He was a prophet whom “the Lord anointed. . .to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Lk 4:18-9).

• His message was “. . .the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand’ ” (Mk 1:14-5). That is, he was the eschatological prophet, announcing the fulfillment of all God’s promises and the way of salvation.

• He came ‘‘to bring “glad tidings to the poor” (Lk 4:18) and so fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah (Is 61-2). His beatitudes were addressed to those who were really poor, hungry, grief-stricken and outcasts of the world (Lk 6:20-3).

• His spoke “with authority” to challenge the Jewish leaders: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors . . . but I say to you. . .” (Mt 5:21-2; and then repeated five more times in chapter 5).

• His message was often in the form of parables: “I speak to them in parables. . .” (Mt 13:13), which turned cultural values upside down.

• His entire life’s mission was to carry out the will of God: “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me” (Jn 4:35).

• Jesus favored people and their needs over sacred laws: (Mt 12:9-14).

• His love extended even to his enemies: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

• His love for His disciples was a model for all His followers: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34).

And this is the way Jesus lived His life. Throughout all the Gospel accounts, He showed respect for all people. His love was for every kind of person: rich or poor, sick or well, disabled or not, of high or low social position, friends or enemies, of any ethnic group or religion, male or female, prostitutes or felons, those neglected or outcast, and sinners or “saints” (see, for example, Mt 4:23-5; Lk 6:17-9). All were welcome as His disciples.

The Way of Christians

What is the way for Christians to follow Jesus? What does it mean to live as a Christian? First, consider what kind of community Jesus had in mind.

• Jesus knew that any community must have some distinction of roles, but He also intended that the particular gifts of each person must serve the needs of all: “[Christ] gave some as apostles. . . others as pastors and teachers. . .for building up the body of Christ. . .with the proper functioning of each part” (Eph 4:11-6). “. . .use [your gift] to serve one another. . .” (1 Pt 4:10).

• Though His community must have some forms of authority, leaders must not seek titles of power or dominance: “You know that the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant. . .” (Mt 20:25-6).

• Leaders of his community must strive to be living models of what it means to be a Christian: “[Y]ou became imitators of us and of the Lord . . .so that you became a model for all believers. . .” (1 Thes 1:6-7; see also 1 Tm 4:12).

• The entire community has been called to follow the example of Jesus, especially in whatever suffering comes: “[T]o this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps” (1 Pt 2:21).

• Jesus left His disciples only one general commandment: to love all fellow Christians as Christ loved them: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you” (Jn 15:12; notice that this norm was primarily intended for the members of the Johannine community).

• The community of Christians must all be formed by Word and sacrament: “[W]hoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life. . .” (Jn 5:24). “ ‘What are we to do, my brothers?’ Peter [said] to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you. . .’ ” (Acts 2:37-8).

Second, consider the qualities Jesus looks for in each individual Christian.

• A Christian should make no preferences because of race or nationality: “[T]here is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all. . .” (Rom 10:12).

• A Christian shows no partiality and does not reject people because of appearance, culture, or social standing: “God shows no partiality. . .whoever fears [God] and acts uprightly is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34; see also Jas 2:1-9).

• A Christian esteems all Christians as equals, no matter their gender, or social position: “[T]here is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28; such a norm was very contrary to the cultural norms of the first century).

• A Christian is one who loves all as he loves himself: “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments. . .and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (17-9).

• Jesus teaches the extreme form of love, even love of enemies: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. . .” (Lk 6:27; see also Mt 5:44).

• A Christian will ultimately be judged by how he or she serves Christ in those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, ill or in prison: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers [or sisters] of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).

Perhaps for the first time in human history, a religious community was established that was open to all people: “God shows no partiality. . .whoever fears [God] and acts uprightly is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34). Jesus did not choose one race or nationality. He did not demand of His followers an elaborate set of rites or rituals. He did not give preference to one group, such as males or those who are “righteous.”

He made a special effort to reach the poor, the needy, the outcast and the sinner. He respected everyone he met and, when necessary, was willing to give everyone a second chance.

FATHER KINN, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, retired in 2002 after 19 years as pastor of Santa Maria del Popolo Parish in Mundelein, Illinois. He has written several books, including Teach, Delight, Persuade.