|The Prophet - Zao Wou Ki (1920-2013)|
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”. So says St Paul in this week’s Epistle. He thereby seems to endorse a widely held belief that feelings are much more important than theological doctrines when it comes to Christian faith, or even more generally (as in the well known song) that ‘All you need is Love!’ Yet, in the very next paragraph Paul emphasizes the importance of not mistaking idols for the one true God. This is knowledge not everyone has, he says, and it can make a crucial difference. So is love enough or not? Or do we need real knowledge of what we ought to love?
The other two readings throw some light on this important issue. The Old Testament passage from Deuteronomy could not make it plainer that God uses prophets -- people of special insight who will reveal his Word -- and that one such prophet will stand out from all the rest. The Gospel passage casts Jesus in this light -- as someone who teaches, but with an authority greater than all the other prophets. The heart of this short episode is to be found in the opening paragraph, in fact, because the extraordinary power to heal demented people that he subsequently demonstrates, is taken as awesome evidence of this special prophetic authority.
|Fallen Demon - Mikhail Vrubel (1856-1910)|
Theological speculation can indeed be a kind of knowledge that puffs up. It is possible to attain impressive expertise in a highly sophisticated intellectual enterprise that, in reality, has very little to do with knowing how to live a life of faith. At the same time, this is no license for anti-intellectualism, the kind of Christianity that abandons reason in favor of emotion. John’s Gospel explicitly describes Jesus as ‘the Truth’, and elsewhere Paul tells us that ‘the Truth’ will set us free. It can only do so if we know what the truth is – precisely the task that we have, literally, God-given minds to work on.