What were the gospel writers up to?
Why did the writers of the gospels choose to publish the many insults hurled at Jesus Christ? Why did they give publicity to those who contradicted him? Didn’t they see that negative publicity would ruin Jesus’ image and cripple his mission? Were the evangelists not aware that their reporting could unwittingly promote unbelief?
Indeed, why would the Bible, the Word of God, record the insults directed at the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity? Why didn’t the writers simply ignore those who mocked the Lord? They even reported schism, and gave detailed coverage of those ugly power squabbles among the apostles! They then proceeded to give graphic descriptions of Jesus’ humiliation in a sham trial, His crucifixion together with thieves and a supremely debasing death.
You know the Way of the Cross. What were those guys up to, documenting for posterity some of the most embarrassing and gut-wrenching moments of Jesus’ public life?
You know the taunts: his power to heal was from the devil. Why was he healing on the Sabbath? Who was he trying to fool that he was the Son of God when everyone could point out his father, mother, brothers and sisters? A bloke not yet 50 years old must be nuts claiming he existed before Abraham, the Father of the Chosen Nation.
And all that stuff about building the temple, which took people several decades, in three days? Recall that yuck tale about one not entering life without eating the body of Jesus and drinking his blood? Hey, hey! Even Jesus’ own disciples sometimes took one look at their Master and shook their heads.
Surely, the evangelists, inspired by God and working for his Kingdom, should have explained to the reader what Jesus meant instead of reporting verbatim the opposition’s counter claims. Why should we call the negative reactions part of the Word of God? The gospel writers end up looking like a bunch of muck-raking reporters paid by the other side to make Jesus look bad. Instead of adoring the Lord in their write-ups, they simply stick to reporting the news, sometimes quite sensationally. I am sure modern Christian journalism would never publish a lot of the stuff appearing in the gospels.
I have been asking myself these questions probably for a year now, as I happen to be a Christian journalist. My problem is: should Church media publish negative news about the Church? Should we carry the views of those who criticise certain Church practices or even doctrines? Would doing so not constitute helping ruin the Church’s reputation? Would it not harm the faith?
Should Church journalists also be guided solely by the established ethics of the profession and devote themselves entirely to telling the truth without fear or favour? Should Church media champion freedom of speech and expression? Do Church journalists also have the duty to speak truth to power? Can we be dispassionate messengers, even for those whose opinions our Church doesn’t agree with? Is there anything like Christian journalism in the first place, or is it just public relations?
I do not have clear answers to these questions yet. But I guess the journalism of the gospel writers gives me some pointers. They reported Jesus and the events surrounding him frankly. I can see two reasons for this.
Firstly, human beings are endowed with reason and will question, debate and even dismiss what doesn’t seem to make sense to them. This is nothing to be scared of. Such reaction gives us the opportunity to restate our beliefs and to witness to our faith joyfully. Instead of suppressing dissent, we should consider it useful feedback and use the opportunity to re-examine ourselves, to clarify any misunderstandings, to instruct the ignorant and to confront any liars with the facts.
And secondly, the evangelists were fully convinced of the truth of Jesus’ teaching. His detractors did not constitute a threat to that truth. No matter the criticisms and lies, the truth will always triumph in the end. So, should Church media publish the views of those who question our beliefs and practices? Should we give publicity to those who criticise the Church?
I am beginning to think so.