The Catholic Thing
Among Thorns Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 23 April 2012

Editor’s Note: We’ve been in our Spring fundraising for a week now and we’re grateful for the response from any of you. But frankly, we’re only half way to where we need to be if The Catholic Thing is to carry on as in the past. We depend on reader donations for no small part of our operating expenses. Please, if you value what you read here – beautiful reflections like Brad Miner’s today – look into your heart and do your part for TCT. – Robert Royal 

Consider the Lord’s explanation of one part of the Parable of the Sower:

As for the seed that fell among thorns, they are the ones who have heard, but as they go along, they are choked by the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life, and they fail to produce mature fruit. [Luke 8:14]

It’s a leitmotiv in the Bible, as it is in life; it’s why we have eyes but don’t see – why we fall away.

We may be forgiven, because . . . who did see? Is there one person who may be said to have certainly “seen” (understood) the true identity of Jesus Christ while he lived? Mary or Joseph perhaps? One may be tempted to read the Incarnation back into the exclamations of Simeon and Anna, yet Luke (2:23) states quite clearly of those prophecies that Mary and Joseph “were wondering at those things which were spoken concerning [Jesus].” Wondering isn’t proof positive that they were not fully aware of the divinity of Jesus, but it’s suggestive.  

What the shepherds and the Magi knew, what they really understood of what they heard from angels or read in the stars – this is also unclear. Still, it’s only too painfully obvious from the Gospels how thoroughly confused was everybody else. 

In Biblical Judaism, a messiah (“anointed one”) was a king, high priest, or prophet accorded the aegis of holiness, and by the time of the birth of Jesus there had been many messiahs in Israel. Even the great Persian king, Cyrus the Great, was called messiah – and he wasn’t even a Jew (Isaiah 45:1). Really, anyone was a messiah who had the chrisma – who had been anointed, actually in the Temple or symbolically by Yahweh.

Of course that’s only part of the tradition. There was/is also the hope of an apocalyptic deliverer – one who, like Moses, will lead the Jewish people to freedom, and rule in Earth’s last days, restoring Jews to their place as God’s Chosen, as in this exchange between the abjuring soothsayer, Balaam, and King Balak (Numbers 17:19):

I see him, though not now;
I observe him, though not near:
A star shall advance from Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise from Israel . . .
Though the messiah was to be anointed by God, the expectation was that he’d be a mighty, earthly leader: conqueror of Israel’s enemies. In the words of Maimonides:
And at that time there will be no hunger or war, no jealousy or rivalry, for good will be plentiful . . . . The entire occupation of the world will be only to know God.
Which is why most Jews never accepted Jesus as the messiah. As one scholar has written, a better candidate was Simon bar Kokhba, the revolutionary leader who lived in the century after Jesus, who fought the Romans – “catching the Tenth Legion by surprise and retaking Jerusalem” – and who resumed sacrifices in the ruins of the Temple (sacked by Rome in 70 A.D.), which he also swore to rebuild.
This is what the Jewish people were looking for . . . [and] Jesus clearly does not fit into this mold. Ultimately, however, [Rome] crushed his revolt and killed Bar Kokhba. After his death, all acknowledged that he was not the mashiach.
The term “mashiach” (or mosiach) is now preferred by many Jewish writers, because “messiah” is so completely associated with Jesus. Ever since Kokhba’s death, Jewish messianism has become apocalyptic, an ironic unity among devout Jews and Christians.

    The Holy Family with the Infant St John the Baptist by Niccolo Frangiapane (1595)    

When people passed by Jesus on the streets of Nazareth, Jerusalem, or wherever he walked – and with the exception of angels and demons – did anyone recognize him? At the peak of his fame (i.e., on the eve of his death) even his Apostles saw merely a man, although an extraordinary man, clearly chosen by Yahweh. To a few he was the messiah, but there was not a Jew in Israel who believed the messiah would be the Creator himself.

Why else would John the Baptist, Christ’s earthly cousin after all, ask from prison: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” And the examples of doubt and confusion among the Apostles are too numerous to detail, especially in the case of Saint Peter: denying his Lord three times; scolding Jesus for going to Jerusalem to die (prompting the Lord’s “Get thee behind me, Satan!” rebuke); and judging Jesus as equal to Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration.

We recall the story of “doubting” Thomas, who would not accept the Resurrection on the testimony of his sisters and brothers but only by touching the wounds of the risen Christ. When he did touch them, Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God,” pretty much what Peter said – prompted by God – when Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?”

“You are the Messiah,” Matthew reports Peter crying out, “the Son of the living God.”

Yet just seven verses on (16:13) comes Christ’s “Satan” rebuke, the end which truly stings:

“You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

His crown of thorns is a reminder, perhaps, that our world is thick with briars: “anxieties and riches and pleasures . . .”

Thank God for his words to Thomas after the Apostle’s profession of faith: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

That’s us – we few, we faithful – if, that is, we think as God does, which is to say: we have eternal perspective on temporal existence; we seek virtue despite our sins; above all, that we love in this thorny world that stokes enmity in all things trifling and tremendous.

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, a senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books, and is a former Literary Editor of National Review.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (3)Add Comment
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, April 23, 2012
As Pascal says in the Pensées, “"It is not in this manner that He has willed to appear in His advent of mercy, because, as so many make themselves unworthy of His mercy, He has willed to leave them in the loss of the good which they do not want. It was not, then, right that He should appear in a manner manifestly divine, and completely capable of convincing all men; but it was also not right that He should come in so hidden a manner that He could not be known by those who should sincerely seek Him. He has willed to make himself quite recognisable by those; and thus, willing to appear openly to those who seek Him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from Him with all their heart, He so regulates the knowledge of Himself that He has given signs of Himself, visible to those who seek Him, and not to those who seek Him not. There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition." – Is. 45:15. "Verily, thou art a God that hidest thyself."
written by will manley, April 23, 2012
This is the post I have been waiting for. Thank you. The Messiah was neither the charismatic political or military figure that the Jews hoped for. He came to die for our sins so that we could have everlasting life. There is a strong message here for both liberals and conservatives who would have our church become a political action committee. The church needs to focus on being a salvation action committee especially now in our pre-apocalyptic world.
written by Other Joe, April 23, 2012
The things of this world will all pass away (and often just after the extended warrantee has expired). How tragic to make things and matters of this world the measure of a life. We have had two-thousand years to realize that the incarnation could not have gone any other way. Jesus did not come to perfect state power; he came to show a more perfect love. The crown of thorns was a specific insult. It was intended to humiliate and torture the individual who threatened the power and privilege of the elite, not only of his time, but also through all time right down to the present. The culture war has always been about worldly power and privilege. The elite measure human value against an image in the mirror and the elite rule that some lives are not worth living because they are not interested in living such lives. Jesus came in service to all, but especially to the poor of spirit – many of whom live lives considered not worthy of the food and breath required to sustain them. Had He come as a conqueror (in full worldly glory as expected), He would have ended free will and ended love and suffocated our humanity. When He comes again in full glory, He will end time (it is promised) and thus end the purpose for faith, free will and love. Blessed indeed are those who believe and yet have not yet seen. When it shall be that they have seen; it will be too late.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


Other Articles By This Author