January 11, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: Jesus claimed to be God

John F. FinkI often encounter people who will acknowledge that Jesus was a great man and a great moral teacher, but deny that he was God. They try to put him on a level with other great moral teachers.

But it is not sufficient for Catholics to follow Christ just because he was a great man. He claimed to be God. He said that he had always existed. He told Nicodemus that God sent him into the world “that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17). If Jesus wasn’t God, as he claimed, he was crazy to say such things.

Some, though, say that Jesus never really said such things, that the Gospel writers wrote those things decades after Jesus died. Sometimes one even hears that Jesus never claimed to be God.

Usually, though, these people acknowledge that Jesus claimed to forgive sins. He did this frequently.

Once was during the dinner given by Simon the Pharisee when a sinful woman bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. He told her, “Your sins are forgiven” (Lk 7:48). The others at table said to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” (Lk 7:49).

Perhaps even a better example is the healing of a paralytic, reported in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

When the paralytic was lowered down from the roof of the house Jesus was in, Jesus first said to him, “Your sins are forgiven”(Mt 9:5, Mk 2:5, Lk 5:23).

According to Mark, the scribes sitting there understood Jesus’ claim, for they asked, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?” (Mk 2:7)

When Jesus healed the paralytic, he told those scribes specifically that he was doing it “that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on Earth” (Mk 2:10). If only God can forgive sins, Jesus obviously claimed to be God.

As a man, I can forgive you for injuring me, but I have no right to forgive you for injuring someone else. If you sin by breaking God’s laws, only God can forgive that. And Jesus claimed to have the authority to do that.

As is frequently the case, C. S. Lewis wrote as clearly as anyone else about Jesus’ claim to be divine. In the chapter titled “The Shocking Alternative” in his book Mere Christianity, he wrote: “I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say.

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” †

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