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


There are two other versions of the spikenard episode. One, in St. Mark's Gospel, sets the scene also in Bethany, but in the house of one Simon the leper, and the ointment is poured over Jesus' head, not his feet, by an unnamed woman who just appears while they are at dinner. In the other, in St. Luke's Gospel, the place is unspecified, and Jesus' host is a Pharisee who has invited him to dinner. A woman of the town, a notorious character, hearing that Jesus is dining at the Pharisee's house, makes her way there, having purchased at consider-able expense an alabaster box of ointment. Then, standing at his feet, behind him, weeping {she} began to wet his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. The Pharisee, it may be assumed, in inviting Jesus to his house was actuated more by curiosity than any genuine wish to find out what he had to say; and when he observed the complaisance with which his guest accepted the woman's attentions, he reflected inwardly: This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner - incidentally, a curious view of prophetic insights. As usual, Jesus knew what he was thinking, and put to him this question: Supposing someone forgave two debts, one of five hundred pence and the other of fifty, which debtor would be the more beholden to him? The Pharisee said he supposed the former. Exactly right. Then Jesus went on to explain the application: when he came into Simon's house no one gave him water for his feet, but the woman wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. Likewise, no one kissed him, but she had not stopped kissing his feet. Nor did anyone anoint his head with oil, whereas the woman anointed his feet with expensive ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins which are many, are forgiven: for she loved much; but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. Thus Jesus combined a subtle reproach to his host for a certain lack of attentiveness in receiving him, with kind words to the woman whose sins, he told her, were now forgiven. Thy faith hath saved thee, he said to her; Go in peace.

There came a woman having
an alabaster box of ointment
of spikenard very precious.

Efforts have been made to identify this woman with Mary Magdalene, from whom, we are told, Jesus cast out seven devils. Otherwise, all we know about her is that she belonged to a little company of women - Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and a certain Susanna are named as two others - who followed Jesus, ministering to him and the disciples' needs and contributing to their support. As the centuries have rolled by she has gradually been transformed from a penitent into a heroine, until in the nineteenth century she provided the prototype of the Good Harlot; a sentimentalized figure, dear to second-rate writers like Maupassant and Wilde and Alexandre Dumas fils, who comforted themselves by reasoning, fallaciously, that if a whore was dear to Jesus, patronizing whore-houses must be conducive to their and their readers' virtue. In this context, Jesus' remark that she loved much is taken as relating to her feelings about her clients rather than to her feelings about Jesus himself, as someone so utterly apart from her own way of life, pursuits and associates, that she was drawn irresistibly to him. Wanting to take something to him that was very precious, she bought for the purpose the expensive ointment with a view to pouring it over his head; but when she found herself actually in his presence, she could only fall at his feet and anoint them with it, bathing them in tears of true penitence and wiping them with her hair in a gesture of true dedication.

The Boule de Suif's and La Dame aux Camelias; sentimentalized notions of a harlot belong to fantasy; real whores are often kind and good-natured, as well as lazy and greedy, but by virtue of their very occupation, without love and without sensuality. In the same sort of way, pit ponies are blind and veteran boxers concussed. What Jesus had to give to the Mary Magdalenes was the possibility of loving and feeling, which automatically necessitated their ceasing to be whores. The particular one in question was so grateful for this incomparable gift that she attached herself to Jesus, and we find her among the group of women who were beholding {the Crucifixion} afar off, and who helped to prepare Jesus' body for burial by anointing him with spices - for her, the second time, but how different the occasion! And how different was she herself! It was this Mary Magdalene, too, we are told, who in the very early morning after the Crucifixion, while it was still dark went to the tomb and found it empty; then was the first to see the Risen Lord, whom she mistook for a gardener - an extra glory for an honorable avocation.

That Jesus understood human love in all its connotations,
including the sexual, cannot be doubted; otherwise, he would not have been a man. Equally certainly, he was a very attractive person in every way; perhaps especially to women. The contem-porary deduction from this would be that either he had sexual relations with women, or that he was frustrated, and therefore unbalanced in his attitude to them. Here, D. H. Lawrence leads the field with his The Man Who Died, produced appropriately enough in the intervals of writing and re-writing Lady Chatterley's Lover, when he was sick and impotent. The theme, in so far as it can be unraveled, is that Jesus comes to in the tomb after being crucified, hobbles away and encounters Mary Magdalene, to whom he explains that his purpose is no longer to save the world, but only to find fulfillment for himself in the world. She is saddened to find him so changed, and no longer 'the young flamy unphysical exalter of her soul' she had given her heart to, and he feels estranged from her. A young priestess of Isis pleases him better, and becomes pregnant by him - to the best of my knowledge, the only pregnancy in all Lawrence's oeuvre. In due course, they, too, part. A more ludicrous and complete misunderstanding of the New Testament story - whose whole point is that Jesus is the Man Who Lives - can scarcely be imagined, and one can only say of it, as Dr. Johnson said of Cymbeline, that 'to remark the folly of the fiction . . . were to waste criticism upon unresisting imbecility'.

Jesus neither discounted our human carnality nor advocated surrender to it. When the Sadducees brought up the far-fetched story of seven brothers who died one after the other, each, in accordance with the Mosaic Law, passing on to the next the same childless wife, and asked to whom this, by that time, one imagines, somewhat battered lady would belong at the Resurrection, Jesus rebuked them with: When they shall rise from the dead they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in Heaven. Carnality, in other words, belongs to the world of Time, and in Eternity has no place. Even here, on earth, however, there are some who for one reason or another must eschew carnality - for there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb; and there are eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men; and there be eunuchs, which made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of Heaven's sake. Without a doubt, Jesus saw himself as belonging to the third category, thereby inspiring countless others to take on a life of self-abnegation in the religious orders and otherwise. When I think of all that has been achieved by these dedicated men and women who, like Jesus, have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake, from exquisite illuminated Missals and Books of Hours, to innumerable good works in the way of looking after the mentally and physically sick, all the scholarship and schools and hospices, all the works of art and literature and mystical insight; not to mention the prayers and devotions which have sweetened and illumined a world given up to egotistic and sensual pursuits - when I think of all this, and even of my own poor efforts to find a similar way, and how immeasurably fuller, happier, more creative life has been to the small degree that I have found it, I marvel that the contemporary view of all such self-abnegation as sick, useless and perverted should seem worthy of a moment's consideration. In any case, there can be no question as to where Jesus stood; It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing, he insisted, and though his words can be, and often have been, turned round to signify the opposite of what they say, they still stand, and will for ever.

Jesus himself, even in his obscurity, dreaded the gathering of crowds, and where possible avoided them. Everything in Christianity that matters is from individual to individual; collectivities belong to the Devil, and so easily respond to his persuasion. The Devil is a demagogue and sloganeer; Jesus was, and is, concerned with individual souls, with the Living Word. What he gives us is truth carried on the wings of love, not slogans carried on the thrust of power. It is easy to see why the healing miracles drew people to him and held their attention, but what did they make of his words? Did they relate them to their lives, actually seeking to be pure in heart in order to see God? To forego laying up treasure on earth, and responding revengefully to wrongs and insults? Or did they suppose, in so far as they considered the matter at all, that Jesus was stating a ludicrously far-fetched ideal with a view to their becoming a little more humane, a little more loving, a little purer of heart, than they would otherwise be? Such has been the prevailing view among the generality of Christians, who are prone to express their love for their enemies by killing them in battle, or encouraging and helping others to ambush and murder them, without feeling that thereby they have infringed Jesus' teaching. Surveying our human scene it is difficult to resist the conclusion that cupidity, vanity, concupiscence and aggressiveness have at all times proved too strong, at any rate in their collective manifestations, to be reversed by Jesus[' dynamic of love. So his followers find themselves in the same case as the Pharisees he so roundly abused, who say and do not - the worst possible offense.

If, in mortal terms, it may seem ridiculous to expect human beings to turn the other cheek when they are struck, to love their enemies and do good to those who injure them, this does not mean that Jesus' Beatitudes are no more than pious aspirations - visions of a heavenly virtue unattainable on earth. Think of someone in love; he or she is liable to entertain the wildest notions of the felicities which lie ahead. To see the person loved as far more beautiful, chivalrous, considerate, tender and altogether admirable than can ever conceivably be the case, and their life together as far more consistently happy and fruitful than in practice it is likely to be. Yet at the end of the day, if they stay the course, they will look back across the mutually inflicted suffering, the tantrums and rages and jealousies, and see that after all those first dreams of a lasting love - as on Keats' Grecian Urn, for ever warm and still to be enjoyed - have been fulfilled, but not in the way that was expected. The Songs of Innocence echo in the Songs of Experience, and hopes are only irretrievably lost when Time claims the bloom as well as the seed. So with Jesus' Beatitudes, it is as true that enemies will not be loved nor injuries rewarded with kindness as that the world is not a Grecian Urn. Yet still love does not die, and Jesus' Beatitudes, just by virtue of having been spoken by him, have enriched our mortal existence beyond imagining, putting a yeast of love into the unlively dough of human greed and human spite and human willfulness, so that it can rise marvelously. How inexpressibly wonderful it is, just that the words were uttered all that time ago! How many minds thereby have been uplifted, hearts lightened, souls fired, that would otherwise have found their trough world enough, and its swill all their nourishment.

Jesus summarized all his teaching for us in two great propositions which have provided Christendom with, as it were, its moral and spiritual axis. The first and great commandment, he said, was: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and the second, like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments, he insisted, hang all the law and the prophets. His manner of presenting them indicates their interdependence; unless we love God we cannot love our neighbor, and, correspondingly, unless we love our neighbor we cannot love God. Once again, there has to be a balance; Christianity is a system of such balanced obligations - to God and Caesar, to flesh and spirit, to God and our neighbor, and so on. Happy the man who strikes the balance justly; to its imbalance are due most of our miseries and misfortunes, individual as well as collective.

There have been times when the obligation to God pulled too strongly, and the balance had to be redressed in favor of our neighbor. St. Simeon Stylites on his pillar most certainly loved God, and would doubtless have claimed to love his neighbor, but perched up there he was too remote for this love to find any effective expression. Gibbon was perhaps right when he wrote of St. Simeon that 'such voluntary martyrdom must have gradually destroyed the sensibility both of the mind and the body; nor can it be presumed that the fanatics who torment themselves are susceptible of any lively affection for the rest of mankind.' Had he lived at the time, I feel sure that St. Francis, who, in so far as this is possible, achieved a perfect balance between loving God and his neighbor, would have called St. Simeon down from his pillar, not to love God less but to love his neighbor more, by joining him and his friars as they went up and down the world's thronging, turbulent highways and byways.

In our own time the balance has swung heavily the other way, and the tendency has been all in the direction of loving our neighbor and forgetting or overlooking God. St. Simeon has come down from his pillar to become Comrade Simeon, or the Right Honourable Simeon, or Senator Simeon, or just Sim, with God as no more than a constitutionally elected President to perform ceremonial duties and deliver an annual Speech from the Throne. Deprived of His mystique, God becomes transformed from the Dayspring from on High into one of those Scandinavian monarchs forlornly riding a bicycle about the streets of Stockholm or Copenhagen; addressed in equivalent language with music to match. Worship becomes a seminar, God's House a coffee-bar, and the Word that came to dwell among us full of grace and truth, programmed into People's Logos. Ah, those Jesuit fathers dropping out shaloms on all possible occasions, and topping up their chalices with slugs of bourbon, those pipe-smoking Anglican vicars in their leather-patched cassocks ready to dialogue with anyone at the drop of a chasuble, those minute-skirted girls with moon-calf faces peering out of thickets of hair, all agog to be in Bangladesh or among the Katmandu dropouts; good neighbors all, but as for God - well, you have to define your terms. The truth is that the natural, without the supernatural to enrich and enliven it, is too banal to seem to matter much, and only God can turn a neighbor into a brother - which is perhaps what St. Paul meant when he wrote: though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor . . . and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

What does loving God mean?
We can love the world he created, and the universe which is its setting. We can love all His creatures, including Man, who sees himself as the lord of creation. We can pinpoint our love upon the tiniest instances of life, a flea or a midge, an atom or the particles of an atom. Or expand it to take in the vast eternities of space. We can love paint on canvas, ripe fruit hanging on trees, singing voices, massed masonry, the subtlety and the splendor of words, the rising of the sun in the morning and its setting at night-fall, the grey still twilight of dawn and the golden, murmuring twilight of evening. Likewise a body or a mind at work, straining at some task, and then the sweet relaxation when the work is done, lolling in a chair, eating, to be followed by sleep, stretched out on a bed through the silent night, to awaken, scratching and yawning, to another day. All this we can love, as pertaining to God; but still it is not loving God.

Then again, we may love the godly works of Man. The godly words he tries to utter - though with how much difficulty! - the Cloud of Unknowing into which he ventures, the melodies he makes, the profundities he essays, the laughter he encapsulates - 'That idiot, laughter . . . a passion hateful to my purposes', as Shakespeare's King John calls it, speaking on behalf of all power-maniacs at all times and in all circumstances and places, but for saner souls heard ringing out from Heaven itself, louder sounding when Heaven's gates swing open, abating and dying away as they clang to. All the works of Man, so manifold and wide-ranging - what he builds, what he comes to understand; his explorations of the seen and the unseen, microscopic and universal, as well as into mysteries and meanings; his pyramids, his motorways, his subways and his high-rises, his facts that are fantasies and fantasies that are facts; all the wide range of his quests and curiosities, about himself and his habitat; the dark despair that overwhelms him, and his moments of ecstasy when the doors of the prison of definition are unlocked, and he is free to speak without words and be without being. All this can be loved as emanating from God, and yet not even this is God.

Yet again, there are Man's own particular and private loves, all of which, pertaining to love, partake in some degree of God's love, so that carnality itself, in burning out, leaves ashes which scatter and enrich. Man with his flesh and out of his flesh generating other flesh; adding his body to another body and making a third comprehending both, blended in such a way that the new creature gives hints of each in little gestures, motions, tricks of speech and ways. How beautiful in old age to note in a grandchild newly born some trait remembered from long ago for its enchantment, and now recurring, like the echo of a distant bell, to bind together an old passion and a new life in one continuing and everlasting chain; a green shoot sprouting from a hollowed-out old tree! Is not this continuity of life, this chain stretching from the first to the last days, something to be loved as God? Most certainly, yet still not God.

How, then, is God Himself, very God of very God, to be found and loved? Not as philosophically conceived, as a First Cause or Categorical Imperative. Though we may, perhaps, come to comprehend , and even cherish, such abstractions, we are not made with a capacity to love them. Still less are we capable of loving God as scientifically conceived. Those skulls dug out of some remote Kenyan mountainside, and solemnly captioned and displayed in museums as being so many millions of years old, and the harbingers of Man, may well be possessed of anthropological charisma, but are scarcely, in human terms, lovable. Likewise the humanistic God, the Life Force which has triumphantly carried our species from primeval slime to Professor Ayer, I dare say evokes in some admiration and awe. It would surprise me, however, if this spectacular achievement stirred up in any breast an emotion that could be called love. The simple fact is that to be truly loved God has to become a Man without thereby ceasing to be God. Hence Jesus, who provides the possibility of loving God through, and in, him, and, as part of the same process, of loving other men, our neighbors, through, and in, him. Thus the two commandments become one; to be celebrated in a Man - Jesus - who dies, and sanctified in a Man - also Jesus - who goes on living.

As out of Jesus' affliction came a new sense of God's love, and a new basis for love between men, so out of our affliction we may grasp the splendor of God's love and how to love one another. Thus the consummation of the two commandments was on Golgotha; and the Cross is, at once, their image and their fulfillment. 'It is in affliction itself', Simone Weil writes, 'that the splendor of God's mercy shines; from its very depths, in the heart of its inconsolable bitterness.' We feel ourselves to be forsaken, as Jesus momentarily did on the Cross; and if then we persevere in our love, we end by coming into contact with something which is neither joy nor sorrow, something necessary, pure and essential; something apart from the senses, partaking of both joy and sorrow. Then, at last, triumphantly, we know what it is to love God, and looking outwards from within this love, we see our fellow men, all of them, the sick and the well, the beautiful and the plain, the stupid and the clever, Mongols and beauty-queens and imbeciles and athletes, every variety and category of humankind; see them all as brothers and sisters, members of one family, at once enfolded in God's love and chained together by it, as though they were His galley-slaves, and this servitude their perfect freedom.

To bring about this final consummation, Jesus and his little band of followers prepared to make their way to Jerusalem for their last Passover together. His ministry was over; there was nothing more to say or do - except to die. He knew clearly, and the others sensed dimly, that they were approaching the climax of the drama in which they were involved; moving like sleep-walkers towards a predestined end. The disciples had registered a faint protest against going to Jerusalem. Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? There were twelve hours of daylight, Jesus replied, during which they could walk without stumbling; but when this world's light went out, and night fell, they would stumble unless they had an inner light to guide them. Jesus had this inner light, and it lighted the way to Jerusalem; the city that, as a Jew, Jesus revered, and as the rejected Messiah he pitied and reproached. In his only recorded personal outburst, he cried out at his first glimpse of the city in the distance, set amidst the hills, so strangely and beautifully aloof, as though floating in the sky, and more like a visionary city than an actual one:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!


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"Jesus summarized all his teaching for us in two great propositions which have provided Christendom with, as it were, its moral and spiritual axis. The first and great commandment, he said, was: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and the second, like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."