CHRISTIAN CLASSICS

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JESUS
by Muggeridge

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MARGIN NOTES
Malcolm Muggeridge
Born in 1903, Malcolm Muggeridge has become one of the notable figures of the twentieth century. He is well-known as an author, journalist, media personality, and in his later years, a leading spokesman for Christianity. His upbringing was, as he termed it, "socialist;" his father was involved in politics and served as a member of Parliament. He attended Cambridge University, and after his graduation in 1924, went to India as a teacher. He returned to his native England in 1927, where he married Katherine (Kitty) Dobbs and worked as a substitute teacher. After six months, the young couple moved to Egypt to assume another teaching post. It was here in Egypt that Muggeridge's career as a journalist began in earnest, a life of writing that would include work for the Manchester Guardian , Calcutta Statesman , Evening Standard , Daily Telegraph , and other newspapers.

Malcolm and Kitty Muggeridge spent the fall and winter of 1932-33 in Moscow, where he was a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian . He witnessed the Ukranian famine and was the first western reporter to write truthfully about the resultant death and devestation. This sojourn in the Soviet Union ended Muggeridge's infatuation with Communism as a panacea for the ills of the world.

Returning briefly to England, he subsequently accepted a post in India as assistant editor for the Calcutta Statesman . While there he completed a biography of Samuel Butler. During the Second World War, Muggeridge joined the Army Intelligence Corps and served in Mozambique, Italy, and France. Resuming his career as a journalist following the war, he spent almost two years in Washington, DC as a correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.

Muggeridge's wit and style endeared him to many as he became a popular (and controversial) figure on radio and television. From 1953-57 he served as editor of the British humor magazine Punch . During the 1960s this former Socialist and vocal agnostic gradually modified his positions on religion and became a Christian. This journey is recorded in his book Jesus Rediscovered . From that time his writings reflect his increasingly orthodox stance on matters of faith. In 1983 Malcolm and Kitty Muggeridge became members of the Roman Catholic Church.

In his latter years, Muggeridge expressed a growing concern about moral and ethical issues. He opposed abortion and euthanasia while supporting the rights of the mentally and physically handicapped. His opposition to birth control led to his controversial resignation as Rector of Edinburgh University. He was greatly influenced by Mother Theresa of Calcutta and her efforts on behalf of the forgotten people of the world. She is the subject of his book Something Beautiful for God.

A leading Christian apologist, Muggeridge is sometimes cited as the G. K. Chesterton of the latter twentieth century. There appears to be a widening audience hungering for his sometimes cynical, yet always insightful opinions.

Malcolm Muggeridge, after a fruitful life of constant interaction and tension with life, entered eternal rest November 14, 1990.








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JESUS
by Malcolm Muggeridge


"Jesus did not come into the world to found a Church but to proclaim a Kingdom - the two being by no means the same thing."

If Jesus chose Peter to be the rock on which his church was to be founded, thereby in effect nominating him to be the first of a long line of his Vicars on earth, there have been many mundane intruders into this spiritual domain, from the Emperor Constantine onwards. To those who like myself, rightly or wrongly, have become convinced that what is called 'Western civilization' is irretrievably over, and that another Dark Age is upon us, this seeming collapse of the Church is desolating. We bemoan the passing of a liturgy in which we never participated, of high virtues which we never practiced, of an obedience we never accorded and an orthodoxy we never accepted and often ridiculed.

Yet even if it is true that, despite the assurance given to Peter, the gates of Hell have prevailed, or at any rate are now swinging on ecumenical hinges, that is only a lost battle. The war goes on; and suddenly, in the most unlikely theater of all, a Solzhenitsyn raises his voice, while in the dismal slums of Calcutta a Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity go about Jesus' work of love with incomparable dedication. When I think of them, as I have seen them at their work and at their devotions, I want to put away all the books, tear up all the scribbled notes. There are no more doubts or dilemmas; everything is perfectly clear. What commentary or exposition, however, eloquent, lucid, perceptive, inspired even, can equal in eludication and illumination the effect of these dedicated lives? What mind has conceived a discourse, or tongue spoken it, which conveys even to a minute degree the light they shine before men?

I was hungry, and you gave me meat.
I was thirsty, and you gave me drink.
I was a stranger, and you took me in, and I was naked and you clothed me.
I was sick, and you visited me.
I was in prison, and you came unto me.


The words (of Jesus) come alive, as no study or meditation could possibly make them, in the fulfillment in the most literal sense of Jesus' behest to see in the suffering face of humanity his suffering face, and in their broken bodies, his. The religion Jesus gave the world is an experience, not a body of ideas or principles. It is in being lived that it lives, as it is in loving that the love which it discloses at the heart of all creation becomes manifest. It belongs to the world of a Cervantes rather than that of a Wittgen-stein; to Rabelais and Tolstoy rather than to Bultmann and Barth. It is for fools like me, the poor of this world, rather than for the king.


Thinking of Jesus, I suddenly understand that I know nothing...
and for some reason begin to laugh hilariously, which brings me to the realization that I understand everything I need to understand. So, in the face of a Mother Teresa I trace the very geography of Jesus' Kingdom; all the contours and valleys and waterways. I need no other map. In the light of such a faith as hers, the troubles of the Church, its liturgical squabbles and contending theologies and Vatican Councils drowsing through interminable sessions, seem of little account. Once when I was complaining about Church dignitaries and their attitudes, Mother Teresa drily pointed out that, of the twelve disciples, hand-picked by Jesus himself, one turned out to be a crook and the rest ran away. How, she asked, can we expect mere popes and bishops to do better? How indeed?

And he said to them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

Jesus particularly charged his disciples that they should tell no man he was . . . the Christ. He knew, of course, that if his Messianic role were to be bruited abroad the danger would arise of his becoming the focus of some sort of insurrection, which would falsify the whole purpose of his ministry. Being an attractive, forceful and persuasive speaker and teacher, with a strong personality, once he was seen as the Messiah, and known to have accepted that title, the violence anticipated in many of the Messianic prophecies might easily erupt about his head. To abate any possible ardor in this direction among the disciples, he broke it to them that he would shortly go to Jerusalem, and that there he would suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Peter was outraged, and protested strongly; if Jesus was indeed the Messiah, as now they all accepted, they looked for him to be victorious, not defeated, and expected to share in his triumph.

Be it far from thee Lord; this shall not be done unto thee, Peter insisted.

This time Jesus rebuked him: Get behind me, you Satan: you are an offense to me: for you do not savor the things of God, but those that be of men!

It effectively shut him up.

The danger that Jesus, once generally accepted as the Messiah, would be pushed into at any rate seeming to lead a rebellion, was a very real one. According to the Fourth Gospel, after the miracle of the loaves and fishes the excitement of the crowd was so great, and their conviction so strong that Jesus was indeed the prophet whose imminent coming into the world had been prophesied and was not eagerly awaited, that Jesus feared he might be taken by force and proclaimed a king. To avoid anything of the kind, he departed again into a mountain, himself alone.

'It is the simple historical fact', Professor William Barclay writes, 'that in the thirty years from 67 to 37 BC before the emergence of Herod the Great, no fewer than one hundred and fifty thousand men perished in Palestine in revolutionary uprisings. There was no more explosive and inflammable country in the world than Palestine. If Jesus had publicly claimed to be Messiah, nothing could have stopped a useless flood tide of slaughter.' He goes on to point out that before he could openly claim the Messiahship, he had to show it to the world in a quite new light, with a quite new significance; as a Messiahship whose only power was sacrificial love. In other words, he was indubitably the Messiah, but one 'whose reign was in the hearts of men, a Messiah who reigned from a Cross'. Professor Barclay, along with the late Dr. C. H. Dodd, provides the unfamiliar traveler across the deserts and jungles of Biblical criticism with one of his few sure, steady and infinitely reassuring beacons to guide him on his way.

Peter is only one of the disciples whose character emerges clearly and strongly; the others are somewhat dim figures who in the Gospel narratives do and say little that distinguishes them from one another. This is the case even with John, the disciples Jesus is said to have loved with a special tenderness, and to whom he handed over the care of his mother as he was dying. Peter, on the other hand, is quite definitely a person - impetuous, mercurial, easily stirred to passionate protestations of devotion and loyalty, and equally prone to lose heart in face of difficulties, and to fall down on his undertakings when the test came. Just because of the clearer delineation of his character, he is always the easiest to pick out in group paintings of the disciples; for instance, in Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. At the same time, he is sympathetically portrayed, and there is, indeed, something irresistible about him even when he is at his worst; as in his tragic threefold denial of Jesus while Jesus was being examined by Caiaphas, the High Priest, and his father-in-law, Annas - a sinister figure who had managed, in a manner any contemporary political boss like Mayor Daley of Chicago might envy, after he had been High Priest himself for a number of years, to get the job for five of his sons in succession, as well as for his son-in-law Caiaphas. Peter stayed in the ante-room, and was warming his hands by a coal fire there when the first question was put to him by a maidservant guarding the door: Art thou also one of this man's disciples? His curt answer was I am not. A certain maid beheld him as he sat by the fire, and earnestly looked upon him, and said, This man was also with him. And he denied him, saying, Woman, I know him not.

How vivid the scene is! -- the flames of the lately lit fire illumining the faces of those silently gathered round it; within, the farcical interrogation going on, with occasional words heard, and the sound of Jesus being struck by one of the officers with the palm of his hand. All present must have been conscious that something momentous was happening. Then came the second question, from one of the people gathered with Peter round the fire: Art not thou also one of his disciples? Again the denial, this time accompanied with shouts and curses; the resort of all of us when we succumb to cowardice and panic. Now the third and last question, from one of the High Priest's servants who had noticed Peter's Galilean accent, and thought he recognized him as having been in the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus when he was taken: Art not thou also one of his disciples? No, he was not, Peter insisted, more vehemently than ever, pouring out a strong stream of abuse, curses and obscenities. Fishermen, like bargees, always know how to curse. At this point the dawn broke and the cock crowed, and Peter remembered how the evening before Jesus had prophesied that before the cock crowed he would have denied him thrice. So he went away and wept bitterly.

For Peter there was unforeseen comfort to come. After the Resurrection Jesus three times asked him if he loved him, thus balancing the three times Peter had denied him; and a chastened Peter each time answered less confidently than had been his way, saying that Jesus, who knew all things, must know that he loved him. To intimate his forgiveness of Peter and renewed faith in him, Jesus entrusted him with one of his most deeply felt commands: Feed my sheep! This, too, Jesus repeated three times to emphasize its urgency.

Another incident described in the Gospels, which Jesus particularly asked the three disciples who were present at it not to mention to anyone, at least until after his death and Resurrection, was what is called 'the Transfiguration'. The three disciples were Peter, James and John, and the incident occurred some eight days after the conversation at Caesarea Philippi. They had accompanied Jesus up into a high mountain; like all mystics, he needed from time to time to withdraw from the world, as he had into the wilderness after his baptism by John the Baptist. A high mountain, especially at dawn, offers a greater sense of isolation than even the desert of the high seas, and so is a favorite place for such withdrawals. On this occasion, Jesus became so rapt that he was momentarily carried away into heavenly regions where he might commune more closely with God. Hearing him speaking as though with some unseen presence, and seeing his face shining with ecstasy, and even his clothes glistening and luminous, the three disciples were overcome with awe, so that they fell on their faces and were afraid. They had the impression that Jesus was conversing with Moses and Elijah, and Peter made the endearingly ludicrous suggestion that, in order to protract so remarkable a situation, he might construct three tabernacles for Jesus and the two prophets. At this point, we are told, a bright cloud overshadowed them all, and they seemed to hear a voice out of the cloud, like the one at Jesus's baptism, acknowledging him as God's beloved Son in whom He was well pleased, but on this occasion adding: Hear ye him! It was, after all, the essential requirement - to hear and heed what he had to say. It is so still.

Such transports as the Transfiguration are common enough among mystics, and there are numerous detailed descriptions of them, all of which bear a close resemblance to one another. This strongly suggests that the experience itself is related to some permanent, continuing element in human life which in a mystical state is clearly perceived, but only vaguely and occasionally glimpsed amidst the ordinary preoccupations of earthly living. As the existence of hunger presupposes the existence of bread, and the existence of a fiddle that of music, so the longing for God and awareness of God which characterizes all these mystical experiences presupposes His existence. How precious such experiences are! How one longs for their recurrence! And how mysteriously they come and go! Suddenly, everything seems clearly related to everything else; the harmony perfect, then as suddenly lost. The joy in the consciousness of this harmony is the greatest ever vouchsafed to us in this world, as the sense of loss when it passes is the great desolation.

At the Transfiguration, when the glory was upon Jesus, the luminosity was too much for the three disciples with him, and they had to shut their eyes. Still, they had seen and heard, and to that extent participated. Coming down from the mountain when it was all over, the reaction will have set in. I imagine them then, their footsteps laggardly, and their talk listless, looking closely at Jesus' familiar face and movements, and wondering whether it had really happened - that light, those voices, the words spoken from on high. Experiencing these brief ecstasies, so long watched and waited for, and passing so quickly, is like sitting through a dull concert because at some point there will be a movement, or maybe just a few chords, so sublime that the roof and the walls of the concert-hall will dissolved, the orchestra and their instruments and the prancing conductor with his baton disappear, leaving one alone in a universe overflowing with the music of life itself, its generality and its particularity merged into a oneness, eternal breakers beating against the shores of Time. Then back to the concert-hall, the violins and the cellos, the drums and the trumpets and the whistling flutes; mortality-s familiar orchestration. Stretching a 'crumme of dust from heav'n to hell':
Yet take thy way; for sure thy way is best. As the old English poet, George Herbert saw it:

Stretch or contract me, thy poore debtor:
This is but tuning of my breast,
To make the music better.



In Augustine's Confessions the experience is wonderfully described.
It happened when he was at Ostia with his mother, Monica, after his conversion. They were on their way back to Africa; she triumphant, and soon to die, he full of peace and joy, with his long life's work before him. As they leaned from a window overlooking the courtyard of the house in which they were staying, their conversation turned on what the eternal life of the saints would be like, 'that life which no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart conceived', and they concluded that no bodily pleasure, however delectable and lustrous in earthly terms, was worthy of comparison, or even mention, beside the happiness of the life of the saints. As they talked on, their thoughts reached higher and higher; from 'the whole compass of material things in their various degrees, up to the heavens themselves, from which the sun and the moon and the stars shine down upon the earth'. Then higher still, full of the wonder of all creation, until they reached their own souls; pressing on even beyond them, towards the eternal Wisdom which belongs neither to the past nor the future, but simply is:

And while we spoke of the eternal Wisdom, longing for it and straining for it with all the strength of our hearts, for one fleeting instant we reached out and touched it. Then with a sigh leaving our spiritual harvest bound to it, we returned to the sound of our own speech, in which each word has a beginning and an ending - far, far different from your Word, our Lord, who abides in himself for ever, yet never grows old and gives new life to all things.

The descent to words - those clumsy and inflexible bricks - is like trying to play the Missa Solemnis on a mouth-organ, or to dance the Mazurka with no legs. A lifetime at the task but serves to make it seem the more impossible; truth in words at best attaining only meaning, beauty only elegance, and strength no more than shock. A daddy-long-legs struggling to climb out of a bath, or a mole diligently throwing up his heap of useless earth - so the artificer of words. Every spiritual harvest has, like Augustine's and Monica's, to be left behind, ungarnered; there is always the desolating return to the sound of words which begin and end when what they have to say has neither ending nor beginning. Happy the dumb who cannot be mocked by what they say; the illiterates who cannot be cheated by what they read, or cheat others with what they write!

Jesus spoke, but he also healed. The two went together; they were the equipoise between loving God and loving one's neighbor - the two duties into which Jesus resolved all that the Law laid down and the prophets had proclaimed. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane he healed, restoring the man's ear that Peter had impulsively hacked off with his sword. For that matter, even on the Cross he offered healing words to the penitent thief crucified beside him, making a rendezvous with him in paradise. Jesus never for one moment forgot our human need for bodies and minds in working order; for eyes that truly see and ears that truly hear. His compassion for the maimed, whether they were physically, mentally or spiritually disabled, was fathomless. More often than not, it was his healing powers which drew crowds to him. When it was known that he would be in a particular place they poured in from every direction, sometimes coming long distances - the blind groping their way, the halt and the lame and the inform stumbling along as best they might, some carried on stretchers and litters; then the lepers, shunned by the others, with stumps for arms and lost noses and hobbling toeless feet. Such macabre gatherings assemble at festivals in India, chattering and pleading in the expectation of alms or miracles or both.

At Lourdes, too, bowing their heads, abating their twitchings, holding out their hands, if they have any, as the Blessed Sacrament approaches, they recall his healing words:

Daughter, they faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.

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