March 27, 2009

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Basic Catholicism: The divinity of Jesus

John F. Fink(Seventh in a series of columns)

During recent decades, certain scholars have attempted to find “the historical Jesus”—as opposed, I suppose, to the Jesus of the Christian faith.

In the process of trying to learn as much as possible about Jesus, they sometimes acknowledge that he was a great man, but deny that he was divine.

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 (Jn 3:17).

Some, though, say that Jesus really never 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 by Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus first said to him, “Your sins are forgiven.” 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.

In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis 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.’ 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. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” †

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