Darren Lippe helps facilitate Journey 101 “Loving God” classes, guides a 3rd grade Sunday school class, is a member of a small group & a men’s group, and serves on the Curriculum team.
With our family’s recent trip to Monticello fresh on the mind, I pondered Thomas Jefferson’s perspective of today’s passage.
Aside: Thomas Jefferson & John Adams were political archrivals. In their old age they slowly began to reconcile, though both were still very competitive. They had a bet of $1.00 to see who would live the longest. (Apparently a 19th century version of a March Madness bracket – Editor.) Jefferson lost the bet, but Adams couldn’t collect since he passed away 4 hours later on the same day, July 4, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Thomas Jefferson was fascinated & intrigued by the teachings of Jesus; however, Jefferson struggled with the idea of Christ’s divinity & the recounting of the many miracles in the Bible.
In the 1820’s, as Jefferson reached his late 70’s, he embarked on a project, which he entitled, “The Life & Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” He took 2 copies of the New Testament & with a razor cut out the parables & teachings of Jesus to be compiled in his collection. He excluded all miracles, healings, or super-natural events (like the calming of the sea in today’s passage). This book has come to be known as “Jefferson’s Bible” and is receiving renewed interest after re-publication by the Smithsonian in 2011.
I would submit that Jefferson isn’t too much unlike us. We are drawn to the wonderful teachings of Christ, His revolutionary ideas of how to treat others, & His desire to care for those less fortunate. But we, too, might wrestle with His ability, for example, to rebuke the seas.
So, as intelligent thinkers in 2012 what are we to make of today’s story? We first need to make sure we are merely skeptical & not paranoid. While not an everyday event, the unexplainable does occur on occasion. Scientific study is an awesome tool to verify theories & happenings, but science is limited to only studying those events that are repeatable. Miracles, by their very nature, are not repeatable; so scientific analysis will always provide an inconclusive answer.
Secondly, we need to consider our picture of God. Do we view God as being in our midst & hearing our prayers & seeking to bring His kingdom into our world? If so, is it that astonishing that, at times, He might intervene, via Jesus’ ministry, and do something we would view as miraculous?
Finally, while I’m sure Jefferson would think he is being complimentary of Jesus, I think Christ would be puzzled. How could Jefferson view Christ as being a paragon of ethics & honesty, if Jefferson considered every statement Christ made regarding His divinity & His resurrection as a falsehood? It would be like heeding the advice of a safety expert who walked around with his shoelaces untied.
I would submit there is much to be learned from Jefferson’s faith journey. He was intellectually attracted to Christ & His wisdom. Jefferson, the philosopher, knew that Christ’s teachings were of a caliber the world had never before known. Jefferson thought so much of Jesus’ morality that he adamantly fought for the separation of church & state (not just to keep religious teachings out of government, but to also keep the state from tainting religious ideals).
But Jefferson’s faith walk was also missing something. He never caught on to the whole goal of Jesus’ earthly enterprise. Jesus, through His sacrifice on the cross, came to save a broken world & reconcile each of us to a loving God. Jesus is not merely a teacher sharing exciting ideas that can stimulate our minds; Jesus is a lifesaver seeking to transform our hearts & to save us.
The Jefferson Bible concludes with this passage from John 19:41-42, “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein was never man yet laid. There they laid Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.”
Oh. With a little intellectual humility, recognizing that not everything is immediately provable/explainable, Jefferson might have allowed himself the freedom to experience the immense joy of the empty tomb just 5 sentences later. This Lenten season let us strive be open to the Holy Spirit that we might not miss out on this wondrous love of Christ.