|Phidippides bringing the news|
Saturday, September 7, 2013
SOPHOMORES AND "SO WHAT?"
This week I’ve been preparing my fall term class that begins next Wednesday. It’s an introduction to the New Testament, concentrating on the Gospels. One of the points that I make early on is that Jesus did not come to found a religion but to establish a community, the Church. The New Testament, then, is a collection of inspired writings that are the response of the earliest believers to their experience of Jesus; these writings are the faith literature of the first Christian communities and must be read that way. I’ve always been satisfied with this approach, but in the past few days I’ve heard a couple of additional ideas that may be really helpful in approaching the Scriptures with my students.
CHRISTIANITY IS AN EVENT
One idea is this: “Christianity is not a religion.” Got your attention, right? So, if it’s not a religion, what is it? Well, how about “Christianity is an event.” The essence and center of Christianity is the Christ event, the paschal mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. The driving force behind the writings of the New Testament is not a set of doctrines to be assented to, but an event that changed everything, one that is still going on and in which we’re invited to participate. Christianity is our response to the Christ event.
CHRISTIANITY IS “NEWS”
Following up on this thought, what about instead of thinking of Christianity as just one of the major religions of the world, we think of it primarily as “good news.”
Remember the story of the battle of Marathon? The Athenian army was outnumbered 4 to 1 but contrary to all expectations they defeated the Persians at Marathon. (The Greek victory marked one of the decisive events of world history because it kept the Persians, an Eastern power, from conquering what is now Europe.) Meanwhile the citizens of Athens were waiting in a state of unbearable apprehension, knowing that defeat was possible or even likely.
A soldier named Phidippides was called upon to run the 26 miles back to Athens to carry the great news of the Greeks’ victory. Pushing himself past normal limits of human endurance, he reached Athens in perhaps three hours and delivered the great news: “We won! We won!”
6,400 Persians had been killed versus 192 Greeks! Imagine the unbounded joy that this incredible, unexpected news must have unleashed in the city. Well, this is what the Gospel of Christianity is: It’s “Good news.” And it’s far better news than even the wonderful tidings that Phidippides had brought to the worried Athenians, it's announcing that the Kingdom of God has drawn near and is in our midst. Jesus has come to set things right by conquering evil and death and saving us from our sins.
THE “SO WHAT?” OF CHRISTIANITY
The perennial challenge with sophomores is to show them why they should bother to learn the things you’re teaching. “Like, who cares about geometry or the future tense in Spanish?” I think that the above two ideas, Christianity as an “event” and as “good news” may help the students get a better feel for what the Gospels actually mean for them. “So what?” is always a hard question for teachers, but in this case I may have a better way of answering it than I had before.
It also has the added personal benefit of forcing me to ask myself how the Christ event is playing itself out in my own life, how it remains good news for me today, and how I convey the gospel to others so that it really is “good news.”