DON CUPITT

 

Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)


DENNIS NINEHAM

 

... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)


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EPIPHANY 4
Celestial Celebrity

Luke 2.40  The child grew and became strong. He was full of wisdom, and God's blessings were upon him.

We all like having someone to look up to and admire. Finding such people and making them famous is big business in much of today's world. From the teenage pop group to the sports idol, a high public profile can be worth millions.

Photographers swarm around celebrities like ants, knowing that a good picture can earn pots of money. Glossy magazines seek exclusive access to celebrity functions and weddings, paying heavily for the opportunity. Millions are poured into political programs to build celebrity status for those who want public office.

Some things never change. History witnesses to the same thing way back as far as records go. So it's hardly surprising that the first Christians sought celebrity status for Jesus. Within a few short years Paul and others had proclaimed the humble Nazarene as the Jewish Messiah who would shortly establish God's rule over the whole world. By the time John's Gospel had been written, Jesus had become one with God in heaven, a celestial celebrity.

The Lukan story of how the young Jesus astonished Jewish sages with his wisdom is part of this early trend. It is a tale which picks up a strand of the culture of Jesus' day in which wisdom emanated from God and indeed was God ...

A reflection of eternal light,
A spotless mirror of the workings of God,
And an image of his goodness. (Wisdom 7.26)

Luke's first-century promotion of Jesus as an up-and-coming young celestial celebrity doesn't work too well nowadays, except perhaps with the over-credulous. We well know that a very few children may be wise for their age. But they can't compete with adults. More importantly, the very concept of wisdom has largely disappeared from the common mind. Who ever heard of a competition on radio or television to find the nation's wisest person? Quizzes and IQ tests and telephone votes, yes. But "wisdom indicators"?

A hard truth is that Jesus is no longer as important as he once was. Rather, insofar as he is noticed at all, he is recognised in most cultures today as one of us in every respect. If he informs our way of life it is because we recognise in him a kind and degree of wisdom we perceive in nobody else. But he is not now a celebrity, maintaining a high profile by means of hyped-up claims by religious counterparts of publicity agents and profile managers. Such a celestial celebrity has become a symbol, not of wisdom, but of gullibility and immaturity. 

Not even high-blown tales of early genius, like those in Luke's Gospel, can retrieve Jesus' celestial celebrity status from the past. 

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