In our days, as a creation of the media, more people have a passing acquaintance with the Gnostic gospels like those attributed to Judas or Mary Magdalene. I call this a passing acquaintance, because most people usually know little more than the title of these so-called gospels. Few of them have bothered to read these.
These two Gnostic gospels share a few features. They are both anti-gospels in a sense, because the Incarnation of Christ is always a bad thing. The body is something to be overcome. For Mary Magdalene, in the gospel which bears her name, her womanhood is something which limits her. She must become something which is not man and not woman in order to be saved. In other words, her bodiliness is holding her back.
In the gospel named after Judas, Christâ€™s humanity is a prison, which Judas must free him from, even at the cost of betrayal. Here again it is humanity which is despised and rejected. Both of these so-called gospels share another feature in that Judas and Mary Magdalene become recipients of secret knowledge. And what is that knowledge? Basically that the body is evil and that it is a prison.
Few things could be further from Christianity than such ideas. The culmination of such silliness is in a product like the Da Vinci Code, which purports to reveal a great secret. Now, what, you might ask, could be this great secret which will change the whole world? There are all sorts of things one could imagine. But how many of you would have imagined the so-called secret to be a royal bloodline. Thatâ€™s right. Because, apparently, what the world really needs is yet another royal family.
In the Gospel, the real gospel that is, the one from Jesus Christ, there is a secret. Jesus says, â€˜I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.â€™ But the secret is something no one could have guessed because it is about God himself.
Jesus reveals that what He is in relation to the Father is Gift. â€˜All things have been delivered to me by my Fatherâ€™. The Son is the Beauty of the Father, Godâ€™s perfect grasp of himself. What the Son is by nature, he makes us by grace. We also are made in the image of our Creator, made like Him by grace. Made to be gifts in the Supreme Gift.
And that is why Jesus begins these words, rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is Godâ€™s own Joy at being God, God rejoicing in love. To reveal this to us, to draw us to Himself, God the Son, the eternal Word who is the Image of the Father, took what is ours and became one of us, a man like us in all things but sin.
To us human beings, God comes as a human being. He saves us in a way apt for us. And so Jesus says, â€˜Blessed are the eyes which see what you see!â€™ And what is that? St John writes,
â€˜That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete.â€™
That is the great secret: that God desires to give us his own self, his own life, coming to us in a way we can receive him – in the flesh itself. It is for this mystery that we prepare ourselves in Advent, until Christ comes in glory.
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious.
In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will. All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
Scripture passage from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright 1989, 1993, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.