Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 8, “Scandal in Nazareth”

My dear old friend,*

Why did we think we were so smart? How did we get to be so cynical? We carried our attitude before us like a fraternity banner—out of boarding school and into college. You and I talked about this when we met a couple of weeks ago for the first time in many years.

A bunch of us, some of the smartest guys in our class by standard metrics, would sit around the butt room firing off witticisms at anything and anyone. They were funny to us, but would not have been so to their targets, if the targets had been within earshot. Where did this empty irony come from? Was it just the times? Were we only spoiled children enabled by the youth culture, falling asleep in our own self-satisfaction as the Age of Aquarius was waking up?

In yesterday’s letter, I talked about my non-receptivity to religion when we were at school together—like that of the Jewish people to Jesus two thousand years ago. Away from home, trying to fit in, desperate to be accepted, I was caught up in people and things, as Romano Guardini notes in his chapter “Beginnings.”

But we were not just distracted by what was outside us. We could be downright hostile, inside. Then and today, you can expand that “we” to include every last hip anti-religious ironist, every right-thinking liberal for whom traditional Christian teaching is worthy only of “contempt prior to investigation.”

The phrase is from a quote often attributed to Herbert Spencer: “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is, contempt prior to investigation.

Jesus showed up in his home town of Nazareth, preached from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue, and as St. Luke described it, “All in the synagogue, as they heard these things, were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him forth out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill, on which their town was built, that they might throw him down headlong.”

The contempt was automatic. And he was one of their own!

“Blessed is he who does not succumb to this unholy irritation,” Guardini writes. . . . “Scandal [is the source] of the power that Jesus’ enemies organize against him. They use any ‘reasons’ for their hatred that they can find . . . The real reason is never given; invariably it is this mysterious, inexplicable impulse of the fallen human heart revolting against the holiness that is God. . . .

“The hour is Satan’s. . . . Already the cross stands waiting.”

Powerful stuff, and we are accused. We are also the subject of tomorrow’s chapter, “The Sick.”

Until then,

This series of letters continues here with chapter 9.

* This post continues a chapter-by-chapter series on The Lord by Romano Guardini, in the form of letters to an Episcopalian friend and onetime schoolmate. Scroll back through older posts to see previous letters about earlier chapters. 

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