May 24, 2011

Stumbling over Jesus

                The New Testament readings that the church engages during Eastertide seek to articulate the life and ministry of Jesus, i.e., to make sense of the new reality that the Crucified One is God’s promise of a future, with hope.  The lectionary texts range over the early apostolic preaching as narrated in Acts, the appearances of the Risen Christ in the Gospels, and the expansive interpretations of the Catholic Epistles—those written for the whole church rather than specific congregations like most of the Pauline letters. 

                I Peter 2: 2-10 offers an extended reflection on the “cornerstone chosen and precious in God’s sight,” yet a stone of stumbling.  I have been thinking about what it means to stumble over Jesus, especially in light of the scientific challenge to persons of faith, a challenge articulated of late by none other than the luminary of the world of physics, Stephen Hawking.  Reaching beyond the world of science into matters of faith, he argued that belief in heaven  is a “fairy story” for persons “afraid of the dark.”  While it is certainly commendable that Hawking has lived a remarkably productive life in the face of death, it is hardly worthy of him to reduce humanity to a computer-like existence whose components inevitably fail.  Perhaps it is his own sense of diminishment that allows such reliance on the brain as the determinant of one’s future.  In these latest comments, Hawking has moved beyond his assertions in The Grand Design (2010) which argued that there is no need of a creator to explain the universe.

                For Christians, the “unified theory” is that in love God has created this universe for the purpose of sharing life with creatures, with the goal that humans may learn to image the trinitarian being of God as persons created for community.  Jesus puts a face on God as the Incarnate Word, the “only normal person who ever lived,” in the words of my teacher John A.T. Robinson, and reveals how we are to live together.  It is this “scandal of particularity” that has caused stumbling since the first century.   It is an understandable question: Why would God “reconcile the world” through this one historical figure?  And we can only confess that is because of God’s great mercy, which transcends what our minds can fathom.  Belief in Jesus offers a foundation that sustains in life and in death.

                Molly T. Marshall

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