Jesus is best understood by contrasting Him with John the Baptist
|November 8, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter sixteen||
Jesus is best understood by contrasting Him with the Baptist. John was a preacher of repentance whose eyes were fixed upon the future. Jesus did not allow the thought of the nearness of the end to rob Him of His simplicity and spontaneity, and was not crippled by the reflection that everything was transitory, preparatory, a mere means to an end. His preaching of repentance was not gloomy and forbidding; it was the proclamation of a new righteousness, of which the watchword was, “Ye shall be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” He desires to communicate this personal piety by personal influence. In contrast with the Baptist He never aims at influencing masses of men, but rather avoids it. His work was accomplished mainly among little groups and individuals. He left the task of carrying the Gospel far and wide as a legacy to the community of His followers. The mission of the Twelve, conceived as a mission for the rapid and widespread extension of the Gospel, is not to be used to explain Jesus’ methods of teaching; the narrative of it rests on an “obscure and unintelligible tradition.”
This genuine joy in life was not unnoticed by the contemporaries of Jesus who contrasted Him as “a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber,” with the Baptist. They were vaguely conscious that the whole life of Jesus was “sustained by the feeling of an absolute antithesis between Himself and His times.” He lived not in anxious expectation, but in cheerful gladness, because by the native strength of His piety He had brought present and future into one. Free from all extravagant Jewish delusions about the future, He was not paralysed by the conditions which must be fulfilled to make this future present. He has a peculiar conviction of its coming which gives Him courage to “marry” the present with the future. The present as contrasted with the beyond is for Him no mere shadow, but truth and reality; life is not for Him a mere illusion, but is charged with a real and valuable meaning. His own time is the Messianic time, as His answer to the Baptist’s question shows. And it is among the most certain things in the Gospel that Jesus in His earthly life acknowledged Himself as Messiah both to His disciples and to the High-Priest, and made His entry into Jerusalem as such.”
He can, therefore, fully recognise the worth of the present. It is not true that He taught that this world’s goods were in themselves bad-what He said was only that they must not be put first. Indeed He gives a new value to life by teaching that man cannot be righteous in isolation, but only in the fellowship of love. And as, moreover, the righteousness which He preaches is one of the goods of the Kingdom of God, He cannot have thought of the Kingdom as wholly transcendental. The Reign of God begins for Him in the present era. His consciousness of being able to cast out demons in the spirit of God because Satan’s kingdom on earth is at an end is only the supernaturalistic expression for something of which He also possesses an ethical consciousness, namely, that in the new social righteousness the Kingdom of God is already present.
This presence of the Kingdom was not, however, clearly explained by Jesus, but was set forth in paradoxes and parables, especially in the parables of Mark iv. When we find the Evangelist, in immediate connexion with these parables, asserting that the aim of the parables was to mystify and conceal, we may conclude that the basis of this theory is the fact that these parables concerning the presence of the Kingdom of God were not understood.
In effecting this tacit transformation Jesus is acting in accordance with a tendency of the time. Apocalyptic is itself a spiritualisation of the ancient Israelitish hopes of the future, and Jesus only carries this process to its completion. He raises Late Judaism above the limitations in which it was involved, separates out the remnant of national, political, and sensuous ideas which still clung to the expectation of the future in spite of its having been spiritualised by apocalyptic, and breaks with the Jewish particularism, though without providing a theoretical basis for this step.
Thus, in spite of, nay even because of, His opposition to it, Jesus was the fulfiller of Judaism. In Him were united the ancient and vigorous prophetic religion and the impulse which Judaism itself had begun to feel towards the spiritualisation of the future hope. The transcendental and the actual meet in a unity which is full of life and strength, creative not reflective, and therefore not needing to set aside the ancient traditional ideas by didactic explanations, but overcoming them almost unconsciously by the truth which lies in this paradoxical union. The historical formula embodied in Bousset’s closing sentence runs thus: “The Gospel develops some of the deeper-lying motifs of the Old Testament, but it protests against the prevailing tendency of Judaism.”
Such of the underlying assumptions of this construction as invite challenge lie open to inspection, and do not need to be painfully disentangled from a web of exegesis; that is one of the merits of the book. The chief points to be queried are as follows:—
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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