An Historical Clue That Jesus is God

Last week, we meditated on some historical evidence for why we Christians believe in Jesus’ Resurrection.  Today we want to meditate on a historical argument for why we believe He’s God.

The late-night political comedian Bill Maher recently made the point that New Testament authors accepted slavery.  And this leads to a common question: Why didn’t Jesus speak out against slavery?  If Jesus is truly God, wouldn’t He preach against it?

First, St. Paul did not actually accept slavery.  There’s an article by Trent Horn about this topic, and he asks: What was St. Paul supposed to do, tell Christian slaves to rebel against their masters?  A hundred years before, a slave named Spartacus led a rebellion that led to his death and 6,000 of his followers all being crucified.  And masters couldn’t just free their slaves on a whim because the Roman empire regulated the freeing of slaves, demanding reasons and limiting the numbers.

Second, people today talk about slavery as if it was invented by Europeans, but the acclaimed scholar Thomas Sowell writes, “Before the modern era, by and large Europeans enslaved other Europeans, Asians enslaved other Asians, Africans enslaved other Africans, and the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere enslaved other indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere” (Black Rednecks & White Liberals, 113).  And Maher concedes the historical point that all societies have had slaves.

Third, “Christians were the first group in history to start an anti-slavery movement,” starting in Britain, which then spread to continental Europe and then to the U.S. (Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity?, 73).

Why were these Christians, that is not just Christians in name, the first in history to fight for an end to slavery?  Because they were following Jesus’ teaching on human dignity.  Jesus today says in the Gospel, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21).  Jesus’ mission was not to abolish slavery directly, end murder, or give everyone food, water, and an education; His mission was much bigger.  Today we celebrate Divine mercy, which means God’s mercy towards sinners, that is, those who hurt Him.  Jesus was sent to free people from sin But, once free from sin, they started treating slaves as brothers and sisters, the condition of women improved in the Roman empire, they stopped infanticide and abortion, and Christians started hospitals and eventually universities and schools for the masses!

One reality our society doesn’t understand is that you can’t stop people from being evil just by education.  For example, we can’t eliminate racism just with laws.  If we try to stop every act of racism, we’ll become a totalitarian state, because the government will be monitoring even our words and opinions.  The only true way to stop evil is to change people’s hearts, which is what Jesus did.

There’s an article entitled From Racism to Catholicism – One Man’s Journey, about the scholar Joseph Pearce.  Having been raised by his father to look down on all people, including Catholics, and participating in white supremacist movements and going to jail twice, the only thing that changed his heart was Christ.  He experienced Jesus’ peace while in prison, and three times, when he encountered an enemy, he received love, which healed his heart.  Jesus’ teaching on love, humility, and choosing self-sacrifice for the other, including our enemies, and those who lived these teachings, changed him.

Jesus says to the apostles, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23).  The Church has always been reluctant to put herself in a box by saying officially that a certain text says this.  However, in this case, the Church has said that, with these words, Jesus is giving the apostles and their successors the power to forgive sins.

This is a spiritual mission, not an earthly one.  It is not our job to save the planet and environment, which doesn’t mean we don’t care.  Our job is more important: To help people reconcile with God, help them recognize that He’s our Father and loves us, and that we exist to become like Him, which leads, among other things, to becoming responsible stewards of His creation.

For disciples, it’s always the spiritual first, and then the human.  In the First Reading, we see a historical example of this dynamic: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).  The early Christians focused first on following the apostles’ teaching, living as a community, and celebrating Mass, which is what ‘breaking of bread’ means.  “Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles” (43).  Once their hearts were changed, they started praying over, healing, and serving people.  “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (44-45).  As we said a year ago, this example shows the one big difference between the early Christians and socialists.  Today, young people love socialism, where everyone supposedly gets equal goods, free money, and all our needs are taken care of.  But that’s not Jesus’ teaching.  Why?  Because there’s no freedom in socialism.  The government has no right to take people’s money and redistribute it.

Furthermore, it’s never worked anyway: Communist governments have always tried to take money from the rich and give it to the poor, but then government officials become the new wealthy class.  If people want to share their goods, it must be preceded by a change of heart.  “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (46-47).  Because the early Christians loved in such a radical way, they grew by 40% per decade for the first three hundred years, eventually becoming the dominant religion of the Roman empire.

Historically, it hasn’t always been like that.  There have been times when Christians deviated from Jesus’ teaching and became hypocrites.  However, don’t judge the medicine by people who buy it.  Judge the medicine by those who take it.  Jesus’ record in history shouldn’t be judged by those who call themselves Christians but aren’t, but by those who are His real disciples.  In the same way, we never appreciate Judaism by secular Jews, but by those who follow Judaism.

I believe that no one has ever loved like Jesus Christ, and that His love is evidence of being God.  When we look at the Gospels, we see how people responded to Him.  The women were the first to go to His tomb probably because no one had ever treated women with such respect.  The poor and the outcasts went to Him because He loved all people, and sinners stopped sinning after being with Him.

The whole world knows Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan, which teaches that anyone who is in need, even if they’re our enemy, is our neighbour.  That teaching is so perfect in my mind that it has to come from God.  The people who fought to abolish slavery followed teachings like this.  I believe this is how God loves, and, for me, this is evidence that Jesus is God.

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