To most of us it would not be a desert, but a street of slightly run-down 19th Century workers’ houses, not enhanced by the yellow lines or the parked cars. But on this occasion? Well, it was the parked cars that drew me to the street, because I was one-to-one teaching Bradley, who was working for a geography project. This particular task involved surveying cars in different areas of town to discover where the newer and the older ones ‘lived’.
What we eventually did was not quite what I intended. Bradley would not walk down this street in case we should meet a local who would beat him up for trespassing on his territory. ‘They’ll get me later, even if they won’t attack me with you here.’ It was the same story in the other streets I attempted, so we ended up comparing railway, supermarket and seaside parking, but not walking down that street.
Jesus surely felt afraid when he said: ‘Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.’ (Matthew 20:1819)
But he set his face for Jerusalem. Let’s pray for the grace to surmount our fears and follow him in our daily lives.
(A few months later Bradley moved 200 miles from home to take up an apprenticeship in a town he did not know! Perhaps the little challenges prepared him for that much bigger one.)
Our faith confesses Jesus as Lord, uniquely Son of God, and therefore the definitive Word of God spoken in history. Which only makes sense if we understand that it is a fully human word that is spoken. He struggled to express in the Aramaic words of his culture and his own experience, his human understanding of the divine meaning of his own life and existence in the world. Likewise with typical Jewish gestures and signs, and in the way he shaped his life and responded to the way others shaped it.
When the Apostles began passing on his message, they didn’t begin by reporting what he said. They first mention their own Easter experience, their experience of the Resurrection. What they saw was his way of meeting death and bursting its bonds. For them, the meaning of Jesus was something that could not be contained entirely in words; and Revelation could not be entirely communicated in words.
What was this Revelation? It was first and foremost the full experience of his presence, his companionship and friendship giving meaning to their own lives. Only secondarily, and within the embrace of friendship, did they receive explanations in which Jesus gave his own prophetic interpretation of why he was present with them. They received his words through living with him and living as he lived. Only by doing this did they come to reflect on what he said, and because of this proclaimed the reality in their own words; a further prophetic interpretation – extending the presence of Christ further into the world.
We have the classic collection of these words – the New Testament. We also have a collection of prophetic interpretations of what the apostolic community was like passed on to us by tradition; consisting of liturgical and catechetical formulae of all kinds [e.g. the Creeds]. These testimonies are more elusive because they have been worked out and refined through the centuries. This asks an important question about Revelation. If a text or prayer is written after the time of the apostles, does this make it less sacred or less revealed? Did Revelation stop when the last apostle died? Obviously, the interpretation of the apostles is special, indeed unique, simply through their personal presence at the heart of the Christian event.
If Jesus is the Revelation of God because of the conversation we now have with God – which he achieved during his life as it unfolded, and because of the way he met and overcame death, then those who walked with him had an experience definitive for all time. He changed radically our understanding of life in a way that will never change again. The Apostles are witnesses in a way no one else can be.