|Two Prophets -- John Singer Sargent|
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”. So says St Paul in this week’s Epistle. We could interpret this in a way that seems to endorse a widely held belief: when it comes to Christian faith, feelings are much more important than theological doctrines. Clearly, Paul puts love first (here as elsewhere) and yet, in the very next paragraph, he emphasizes how important it is not to mistake pagan idols for the one true God. This knowledge of the truth, which not everyone has he says, a makes a crucial difference. Love is not enough in just this sense. If it is not to be misdirected, we need real knowledge of the God we ought to love?
|Moment of Truth -- Gauguin|
On the surface, the other two readings don't seem much connected with the Epistle, but they do throw some light on this important issue. The Old Testament passage from Deuteronomy makes it as plain as it could be that God uses people of special insight to reveal his Word -- prophets -- and that one such prophet will stand out from all the rest. The Gospel passage casts Jesus in just this light. Like all the prophets, he is someone who teaches, but who does so with an authority far greater than all the rest. Where is the evidence of this special prophetic authority? The second last verse of this short episode provides the answer. The significance of his extraordinary power does not lie so much in the act of healing, but in what it reveals about his spiritual authority.
Theological speculation can undoubtedly be a kind of knowledge that puffs up. Moreover, it is possible to attain impressive expertise in a highly sophisticated theological enterprise that, in reality, has very little to do with knowing how to live a life of faith. At the same time, the truth of this is no license for anti-intellectualism, abandoning reason in favor of feeling, all in the name of faith. Faith has to fix on that which is true and real. 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, however, if we know what the truth is. The first great commandment tells us to love God with mind as well as heart. This is precisely the task that quite literally, we have God-given minds to work on.