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Readings: Ferris Wheel

The Gospel accounts remains our best source of information about the character and personality of Jesus. They are also the source of what we know of his teaching. What was he actually saying? Again, there is really no substitute for reading it, even if it is embellished often with commentary from the early church. But let us try to catch the main areas that he deals with, the main obsessions of his mind. He teaches in three ways. He draws lessons from incidents (as we noticed, he taught man's ability to forgive at the time of healing); he utters pithy, proverbial sayings that would stick in the mind and can be easily recalled - a common enough tradition for those who heard them: the so-called sermon on the mount (Matt, 5-7) is presumably a collection of such sayings; and thirdly, he has a remarkable line in story telling, many of them comedies, the point of which you may or may not understand. That his stories were vivid, captivating and full of insight, as well as great fun, is borne out by the fact that children still take great delight in telling and acting them, or transferring them to a modern context.

Whatever the teaching, one cannot help but notice the same themes, the same priorities, come out over and over again. Jesus is concerned, for example, from first to last, to teach that Old Testament prophecy is being fulfilled in his time. When invited to speak at his home town in Nazareth, he reads from the prophet Isaiah about the prisoners being set free, dramatically closes the book and announces, "Today this scripture is fulfilled." It does not go down well. Again and again Jesus points out that what is happening is the fulfilment of prophecy. Moreover Jesus very often makes prophecy fulfil itself. This is not chance or amazing coincidence. The man Jesus actually sets out to make things happen, culminating in his quite deliberately riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. It would be nonsense to suppose that Jesus did not know that Zechariah had foretold that the Messiah would do just that. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing, and the vibrations that he would set up. And that will apply at other times of apparant fulfilment of prophecy. Jesus is teaching not only that prophecies come true, but that they can be made to come true, if man cares to do so (Syms (1989), The Ferris Wheel, 35-6)

Let us be clear what we [in his argument] have done; we have allowed men and women their own experiences, understanding and definitions about what we mean by God. We have failed, as we must, to prove his objective existence, but we have deduced from a wide variety of human experiences and values that belief in a transcendent Other is not unreasonable, indeed if I face up to all my experiences and values, I find such a belief more credible than a doctrine of random chaos. ...Indeed, as we proceed, I believe we must learn to see his revelations in more places and situations than we would have thought possible...

(Syms (1989), The Ferris Wheel, 25)