My friend Bill Nolan, Pastoral Associate at St. Thomas Apostle Church, writes a weekly column for his parish. I receive it by e-mail each week.
This week, Bill wrote about what is known colloquially as “The Jefferson Bible.” This is the version of the Bible created by Thomas Jefferson with the aim of creating a condensed compilation of “the doctrines of Jesus, what he believed to be the essential elements of a Christian life.” Bill describes the work as “essentially a biographical chronology and collection of Jesus’ more famous speeches and parables.
What most interests Bill is what Jefferson cut from the original Gospels, both in and of itself and in comparison with what many people would be most likely to cut today. He writes
[I]t is the “cutting” from the original that makes the Jefferson Bible so intriguing. For what Jefferson also sought to do was eliminate from the story that which made him uncomfortable. And what made him most uncomfortable were the stories of the supernatural, the miracle stories, the divinity references, and the Resurrection. In summary, what makes Jesus who he is, at least in the eyes of mainstream Christian tradition.
What I find most interesting in the composition of the Jefferson Bible is that it eliminates – and retains – exactly the opposite of what I find most Catholics would eliminate and retain when it comes to the story of Jesus. It is not the divinity of Christ that we tend to have the most trouble with, it is the humanity of Jesus, the real person, the flesh and blood. It is not the supernatural, but the natural; not the miraculous, but the everyday; not the Resurrection, but the suffering and death.
Bill ends his column with a great thought exercises: If you could cut and paste the Gospels to your liking, what would you keep and what would you cut? I suspect Bill is correct that “your answers might reveal much about the Jesus – and the Christ – you need to know.
Thanks to Bill for allowing me to share his thoughts.
“. . . what would you keep and what would you cut?” From only the Catholic Bible? Most who adhere to ‘a’ belief of faith find little to ‘cut’ from Scripture or sacred writings. The interpretations and teachings that have been established ‘from’ Scripture or sacred writings are topics more often discerned. . .
Could we not begin to ‘cut’ (rethink) teachings that cull, categorize and separate loving and humble hearts one from the other?
During prayer and reflection, an evening before the beginning of the past October Ordinary Synod on the Family, a question arose. If my eternal salvation was predicated upon asking forgiveness for all of my thoughts contemplated, words spoken and writing shared that have not aligned with Catholic teaching – would I do so?
If salvation requires belief that only through the Catholic Church is forgiveness of sins and eternal life promised; coupled with the belief that all individuals outside of the Catholic Church must rely solely on God’s mercy for possible forgiveness and salvation – would I recant and so ‘swear’ to a belief in those conditions? I answered, “No, not for all”. . .
How can one accept ‘individual’ salvation at the expense of salvation for the ‘many’ outside of the Catholic Church?
Our discussion continued and I offered, “If a place has been prepared for me in Heaven, give my place to a child of God who will never know Jesus, and may my eternal destiny be determined through the mercy of God the Church declares all outside the Church must rely upon.”