Contemplate the Face of Jesus

Reading the Gospels is not like reading a modern biography. The story of Jesus is not so much 'this is your life' as 'this is our lives'. For in this greatest of all stories we read of the events that changed the whole face of human history forever. The Gospel writers inspired by the Holy Spirit place before us truths that can be 'humanly perplexing', but which truthfully chart the events of our salvation (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 18).

At Mass we listen attentively to the Word of God. The climax of the Liturgy of the Word is the proclamation of the Gospel. Here, having prepared us with readings from the Old and New Testaments and with prayer taken from the Psalms, at last Christ speaks to us directly. At the Gospel we rise to our feet, acknowledging we are to hear Jesus' ipsissima verba, the very words of Jesus himself. The Book of the Gospels is carried in procession, greeted by alleluias, incensed, and sometimes the Gospel is even sung, for this is the moment when the centuries fall away and Christ who is alive always speaks to us directly today. Here, surely, we 'contemplate the face of Christ'.

What is it that Jesus says to us in the Gospels? Based on first hand testimony we read of his virginal birth from Mary. We learn from first-hand a little of the long, thirty-year period when he lived as the son of a carpenter. Then, from his baptism onwards, we read of an astonishing ministry of love. Ideas that astonish everyone who hears them are preached, deeds which bewilder the whole world take place. Jesus is very much the traveller in these Gospels, going throughout his land, teaching his followers, healing as he taught, always about his Father's business or in silent prayer.

The Gospels then proceed inexorably through the final political twists and human crises that lead out of the city of Jerusalem to the hill at Golgotha. There, the death is shameful, the circumstances horrible. But at the conclusion of the Gospel narrative a bright light floods the world and the Lord rises triumphant, his mission accomplished, his disciples strengthened for the great mission ahead, the infant Church secure forever.

It is a thrilling story and we cannot become too familiar with it. It is also an unsettling story, a story in which we are told to give up everything we know and to follow Christ. The Gospels are like no other factual record: no modern biography would remain almost silent on thirty years of its subject's life, or record so few sentences from his mother, or spend so much time on the parables. The Gospels are written not only to inform or even to edify, but rather to reveal Jesus to us perfectly. There will not be a further revelation (Catechism, 65); everything we need for a good life and a good death is here in the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, the Word made flesh, committed no words to paper; we see him only once writing in the dust (John 8: 1-11), when the woman take in adultery is brought before him - perhaps, as some suggest, writing the sins of the hypocrites. Although he wrote no books, his words and deeds faithfully recorded in the Gospels confront us directly with Truth. As Saint Thomas Aquinas mused, 'Truth himself speaks truly, else there's nothing true.'


+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.
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