Primacy and Insecurity

When leaders—be they Presidents or Popes—reach insecurity and uncertainty they often assert ascendancy and primacy. In the sacramental ritual of … Continued

When leaders—be they Presidents or Popes—reach insecurity and uncertainty they often assert ascendancy and primacy.

In the sacramental ritual of ordination in Johns’ gospel, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples in 13:1-17. All accepted that liturgical rite except for one objector: “Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me’” (13:8). So Peter gave in. Then followed these words of the sacrament with Jesus speaking:

“After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (13:2).

That is John’s sacrament of priestly ordination and mandate for ecclesiastical leadership. And that final sentence sounds to me like a warning, like an expectation of non-compliance: “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (13:2).

Then, at the start of his next chapter, John has Jesus make this deeply enigmatic promise: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” (14:2). I take that to mean that there are diverse forms within the full spectrum of Christianity. I consider Roman Catholicism one of those “dwelling places”—a rather big one, to be sure, but, then, there is nothing in John about size counting towards precedence.

All Christian leadership is mandated by, and modeled on, Jesus—outside of that basis it has no validity even if habit or custom, fear or power, can establish sovereignty. Validity demands accountability and transparency and, without, those aspects, leadership will soon be corrupt and evil. As Jesus said later in John, “I have spoken openly to the world” (18:20)—openly—without lies, cover-ups, witnesses silenced, victims bribed, legal protections, or judicial evasions.

The papacy and hierarchy of Roman Catholicism have failed both its community and its tradition by refusing their sacramental vocation as envisioned in John’s gospel. That vocation is to lead by serving from below rather than by ruling from above. .And, once again, it is Peter that sets the contemporaray example—be it for resistance or acceptance, be it for obedience or disobedience.

At precisely this moment in history, an assertion that the Roman Catholic Church is the fullest expression of Christ’s will is almost like a very bad joke. It invites the obvious response that it may be the emptiest. In Another’s words: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?’” (6:46).

  • Uh Huh

    Come now Prof. Crossan, as you are one who does not believe in the divinity of Jesus, or in His bodily resurrection, or in His miracles, why do you bother putting on a show and pretending that you believe in God at all?If God is simply a construct of the human mind, then what is the purpose of religion? If God is not omniscient and omnipotent, then why bother trying to figure out who God is? He would be little better than us in that case – perhaps no better.If however, God is the omniscient, omnipotent Creator, then His nature defines the Truth – and that Truth would be absolute, the suggestion that an omnipotent God varies with the vagaries of human society is ludicrous.So we really only have two choices – an omnipotent, omniscient God, or atheism. Take your pick Prof. Crossan. I choose God, who has revealed His Truth through Jesus Christ and through His One Holy, Apostolic, Catholic Church.Prof. Crossan, please don’t let your intellectual arrogance condemn you to an eternity in Hell. Please understand that God is infinitely bigger than you, and that you owe him your submission and service.Repent Prof. Crossan.

  • Jeff Reed

    I really do not quite understand why he would do this, but I believe he saw the divisions within Christianity today and sought to bring all religions of Christ closer to one semblance of common thought. However, by doing so, he must be aware that we could go back to a time when the Catholic Church used it’s power for it’s own human purposes and not those of the will of Christ. Maybe we should all look mostly at the words describing the actions of Christ during his time on Earth, and try to emulate those words. Not so much the words written by men for humanity, who after seeing Christ could not fully understand or believe what they had seen, but understood that through him they could change the thoughts of humankind, and so embellished many words spoken by Christ, and even added their own words to direct humanity in a way they ignorantly believed Christ had meant, and themselves had wished.

  • Bill Lang

    Don’t forget what the Pharissee said, “be care lest you find yourself fighting against God”.You fight Christs Church so much because you can’t reconcile your own faults with what the Church teaches. “Pride goeth before the fall”.Perhaps you should go back and do a study on what the “keys” mean in both old and new testaments.

  • Believer

    Dr. Crossan says:”The papacy and hierarchy of Roman Catholicism have failed both its community and its tradition by refusing their sacramental vocation as envisioned in John’s gospel.”This sounds nice (and may even be true) – but it’s inconsistent with virtually everything else Dr. Crossan says. A sacrament is not simply a symbol – the word is used to describe an act that mediates God’s grace. The Pope understands the Catholic church as actually having a sacramental role – that it serves as a mediator to bring God’s grace to man. The concepts of “sacrament” and “sacramental” are central to that understanding, and to his recent comments.I’m not a Catholic – but I understand the traditional Catholic view of the nature and role of the church. Given that view, the Pope’s comments are completely understandable and unsurprising (even though I, as a non-Catholic Christian, don’t agree with them).Dr. Crossan’s rejection of the traditional understanding of the Christian faith reduces the meaning of term “sacramental” to nothing more than “symbolic” or “meaningful” or “religious.” Because he rejects any real significance (as opposed to symbolic, emotional or psycholigical) to the church’s claims, he sees it as no more than arrogant verbal posturing – because he’s in essence rejected theology, he can’t understand it as part of a genuine theological debate.By appealing to a “sacramental” role to support his argument, when he has rejected the basis for any real mediation of God’s grace to man, Dr. Crossan is playing with words in a way that’s fully as bogus as what he’s accusing the Pope of here.As an aside, his interpretation of the passage he quotes from John is pretty bad (“Then, at the start of his next chapter, John has Jesus make this deeply enigmatic promise: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” (14:2). I take that to mean that there are diverse forms within the full spectrum of Christianity. I consider Roman Catholicism one of those “dwelling places”—a rather big one, to be sure, but, then, there is nothing in John about size counting towards precedence.”)In this context, the night before he is crucified Christ refers to his death, and says “I go to prepare . . . and if I go, I will come again.” His Father’s house is where he is going – away from His friends and disciples – and where he will take them after His return. The Catholic church cannot be one of the “dwelling places” – that is, not unless Dr. Crossan is willing to locate it in heaven!

  • Paganplace

    You know, Believer, on this:”As an aside, his interpretation of the passage he quotes from John is pretty bad (“Then, at the start of his next chapter, John has Jesus make this deeply enigmatic promise: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” (14:2). I take that to mean that there are diverse forms within the full spectrum of Christianity.”Gotta wonder if a guy like that wasn’t thinking of something even bigger than different brands of the particular religion that was built around him. I think the presumptions that this stuff is necessarily about who has “primacy” might just be a major source of the problems Christians have getting along with each other, never mind everyone else in the world.

  • Anonymous

    Religion is crossing your fingers and hoping never to die.It makes no sense but what you gonna do?

  • Tim

    Believer … me thinks Crossan has found his match. Check mate goes to you. That interpatation of his about the many mansions was “like a very bad joke.”

  • A Hermit

    “So we really only have two choices -“Why only two?Seems to me it’s the ecclesiastical establishments which most resemble the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. They too believed they and only they, were in possession of the Absolute Truth and that there were “only two choices” – their way or the highway.Humility is the first step to wisdom, and the first step to humility is the realization that the things we don’t know vastly outnumber the things we do.RegardsA Hermit

  • BGone

    Professor:”When leaders—be they Presidents or Popes—reach insecurity and uncertainty they often assert ascendancy and primacy.”Did you say “insecurity and uncertainty” both?You don’t suppose thinking about

  • TJ

    Uh Huh wrote: “Prof. Crossan, please don’t let your intellectual arrogance condemn you to an eternity in Hell.”Fearmonger.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Those who criticize the studies of contemporary NT scholars like Professors Crossan, Borg, Fredriksen and Armstrong (all On Faith panelists) typically have never read any of their books from cover to cover and typically suffer from severe “Googlelismia”.

  • Roy

    What a contrast – this old grumpy German Pope compared to John Paul II who reached out to others and whose face showed the glow of love.

  • Demos

    Regarding the last post by “Anonymous”Why the heck do so many non-believers insist on using pseudo-King James English in their postings? Christians don’t talk like that – and haven’t since the 19th century. What’s worse, they don’t even do it well. As with this last example, they generally end up with a bizarre pastiche of the old and the new, like you’d hear at a Renaissance Festival (or in a really, really low budget thud and blunder movie).

  • Demos

    “Those who criticize the studies of contemporary NT scholars like Professors Crossan, Borg, Fredriksen and Armstrong (all On Faith panelists) typically have never read any of their books from cover to cover and typically suffer from severe “Googlelismia”.””Concerned”, that’s an interesting bit of trivia – where did you get it from? You realize, of course, that Professors Crossan, Borg, Fredricksen and Armstrong only represent one slice of the academic spectrum – there are other scholars out there with very different points of view (e.g., N.T. Wright, E.P. Sanders, Ben Witherington, J.P. Meier). It’s very easy, and quite seductive, to assume that if someone doesn’t agree with us, they must not understand. In truth, many times they understand what we’re saying perfectly well – they simply don’t agree with us (and sometimes we could learn from them, if we’d just take the time to understand in turn why they still disagree with us).

  • Anonymous

    Crossan is a quack and is only interested in selling “controversial” theories a la Dan Brown.

  • Anonymous (once more)

    Demos,I was having fun. It’s cool to write in antiquated language to make a point. It certainly got your attention more than if I’d simply said, “Christians, you’re wrong”.By the way, the key phrasing was written in a religious controversy by none other than… OLIVER CROMWELLTo the Presbyterians of Scotland, Cromwell wrote, “I BESEECH YOU IN THE BOWELS OF CHRIST THINK IT POSSIBLE YOU MAY BE MISTAKEN.”In a letter to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. 1650. QUERY (as they say in law schools):Are all believers humorless?I remain, Sir, your humble and obedient Servant.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Demos,And what books written by Professors Crossan, Borg, Fredriksen and Armstrong have you read? How about any of the books listed at

  • Anonymous

    Ooops, the above Blog belongs on the “Harry-Potter” series of books debate. Oh well;Enjoy Eclati-On philosophy while you can. Ya Ya.

  • Bill Lang

    David, I’ve got to say, you’re a fool! You say why need a degree to preach and then say leave it to those who are accredited and professional. Talking out both ends are you? Have you ever looked at B16’s accredidations?I understand that no one would take me serious when I speak authoritatively on science since I haven’t any training there! Don’t be suprised when people don’t take your non-religious or atheistic opinions on faith any more serious than passing gas!

  • PauL

    I respect the desire of Pope Benedict to return to Tradition. Having ones feet planted on solid ground is reassuring.It is also understandable to me for people to have faith in scholarship such as those on the faith panel. When we are told that the New Testament is full of wishful thinking, errors, additions, and fanciful fiction, a ring of consolation offered us by these thinkers on our bumpy journey through such uncertain life seems a good thing to grasp.But is the New Testament “full of it?” If God is real, powerful, loving, creative, independent (of us), and determined to do the stuff His mind wants to do, who of us, leaned or no, dare deny Him such freedom of expression?Why is a miracle such a big no-no to the mindset of today? Why cannot God know the future? Why can God not choose to become a man in Christ, and do what He must in order to open Heaven for us?There is no more solid ground than that presented in the New Testament about the presence of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Is it possible that even a college of dedicated Shakespeares could have produced such an astonishing work of literature? And for what reward? Eleven of the twelve Apostles were murdered for their message!This New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus Sometimes we moderns transform God into just a mere god, with no hands, no feet, no mind to speak, no heart, no love, no tears to weep.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, ye self-proclaimed “Christians”, I beseechthee, in the bowels of Christ, think it possibleexist, and that your “religion” is a fraud.

  • David

    Commentators are idiots. It never ceases to amaze how how people from both extreme ends of the sprectrum spew the same old hypocritical crap. If Cherry-picking history was an award, you simpletons would be right up there Dick Cheney and Pope Benedict. Quit reading what you want to read and challenge your ideals/assumptions once and a while, rather than resorting to out-dated old testament quotes and offensive references to Christ as an illiterate junkie (when did preaching about helping people require a freaking degree?!!). If you some how can’t challenge yourself and eventually become a better human being for it, then simply leave the professional, accredited, and theological interpretations to those who know how to read. Like Prof. Crossan. (I got your back, Jeff)

  • Bill Lang

    Maybe those writters of the bible wrote these things to see if they could fool future archeologists and hoax busters. They were all in cahoots through the centuries to fool poor saps thousands of years away into giving all their money to ministers and providing jobs to intellegent people to debunk everything.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    BGONE,You make many statements but I never see any references supporting them. And your website also seems to suffer from the same problem. Any reason for this????

  • hl

    It is apparent that whoever wrote ‘the book of John’ made up the story of Jesus washing the apostles’ feet. First of all, the account is not mentioned anywhere else in the NT. Second, that same night Jesus was supposed to be washing those dirty feet in the gospel of John he was having the Passover Seder with his apostles in the accounts of the synoptic; The story of the Passover Seder incidentally does not appear anywhere in John’s gospel because of the date of Jesus’ crucifixion. In the synoptic Jesus dies on the Passover day but according to John he dies on the day before, that is on the day of preparation. That’s why there’s no Eucharist in the book of John either. You would think as important as the Eucharist is to the Christians we can find a token mention of it at least in John’s gospel. But nothing is mentioned besides washing the apostles’ feet; and you can’t mistake washing feet for the Eucharist. We have the trivial story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on an ass in all of the gospel accounts including John’s but no mention of the institution of the Eucharist in the book of John and this guy was supposed to be the real apostle of Jesus himself who was named John.