He was very real. Still is actually, and you can know and love him. If you want to know Tom Sawyer, and who his friends and enemies were and his love and hate relationships with them; and about the girls Tom was smitten in love with; and how Tom thought, his attitudes and emotions and quirks, and how he nearly always got the best of his adversary, and how he aggravated and charmed his relatives; and the social customs and mores of the age that Tom lived in, you must read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. Having read him a dozen times, I last read him four years ago in my Cleveland accommodation looking out over Lake Erie, frozen solid. Mark Twain was his pen name, Samuel Clemens his “real name” but we know Mark T. better than we know Sam C. so they are equally real. And he swears most of Tom's adventures really happened.
“Real” is what we see and perceive anyway, and what we remember, that Oldsmobile in the garage out back and the fun I had driving it, more than “real” is some recorded or more likely unrecorded “historical facts.” "Real," "Truth" is like an iceberg, most of it never seen. And much of it, seen or unseen, is perceptions and assumptions; not to mention "certainty." There’s far more about any man (anthropos, human, or υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου) than is seen anyway, and we can never know everything about anyone or anything. My parents, even my siblings, heavens even my spouse, those gentle folk don't know the TomW whom I know and sometimes hide or hide from. Who knows ... ? The Shadow knows. God knows. Mark knows. Norm knows. And don't believe everything you hear.
Here I am traipsing down some dusty side trail yet one more time again, but everything I’ve remarked above about Tom and Mark and Sam, and remembered but didn’t comment on about Huck, is also true of our religious figures. Maybe I won’t say “characters” lest people take me irreverent, though I’d rather others consider me irreverent than consider myself naive or stupid. We don’t know our religious characters at all except as we read in books. We know zero about Mark the Evangelist, but there is a lot of tradition about Mark, which we enjoy taking in. Not to say “swallowing,” not to say that at all. But we truly have no idea who “Mark” was, the gospel given that name is anonymous, makes no claim to ownership. Someone named it "Mark" maybe a hundred years later and tradition has developed a credible biography for Mark anyway.
And we know Jesus only as Mark tells us about him. Mark first and oldest; well, Mark in the canon of Scripture, many of the older stories of and about Jesus may have turned up unembellished in the so-called “Gospel of Thomas” -- if you don’t know that collection of Jesus’ stories and sayings, scholars call them "logia," (unlike “Mark”, “Thomas” actually does claim authorship) that’s not my fault: you could have been coming to my Bible classes these years and seasons and Tuesday and Sunday mornings. Same with "Secret Mark."
Besides our Four there are many other gospels about Jesus, and we’ve read and discussed some of them in classes. Only four are in the “canon of scripture” though, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. Don’t let it bother you that I suspect it should be “Lazarus” instead of “John.” And speaking of the Beloved Disciple, what ever happened to Mary Magdalen? Does Mark know? Or Andrew Lloyd Webber?
And Jesus. The Lord Jesus Christ, bless him as he blesses us, Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Capernaum. Calling fishermen immediately away from their fathers' boats, telling parables, feeding, healing, controlling nature, and flommoxing the religious certitudinous, I never saw the beat of him; the Man of Calvary who what he says from his Cross depends on who remembers and is telling his story. We only know Jesus as he is revealed to us in Scripture -- by authors of the several New Testament books, in particular the evangelists who wrote our four canonical gospels. We know him the same way we know Tom Sawyer, through the stories about him. Were it not for the stories, told about him, repeated and spread over the forty years after his death, then over the next half century and more written down for particular audiences for particular reasons, and read and heard and copied and spread round to more and more people over the decades and centuries and nations, we'd not know Jesus at all. And even so, scholars insist that we know the Jesus of faith and the Christian church, but not "the historical Jesus."
Interestingly, very interestingly, the stories are not all the same, and the evangelists’ memories and telling and use of even the same stories is not all in synch. But that’s good, see, because they tell us about him from various perspectives. How many times did he go to Jerusalem? When did he drive the moneychangers out of the temple? Not unlike witnesses who come into court to tell the jury just what they saw and heard, no two stories are the same; so the jury has to decide what to believe. Or the believer. Or merge, conjoin, as two completely different Christmas stories merge for a third Christmas story that lets magi, sheep, camels and shepherds crowd into a stable around a manger. The four gospel writers heard about and perceived and related their Jesus stories differently. Paul has still a different take on him. So do the authors of the other New Testament books, in particular those claiming eyewitness standing as “Peter” does. The stories are fascinating, with intriguing historicity versus heilsgeschichte.
In the Episcopal Church we like to explore these things without leaving our brains and common sense at the door. Read, explore, discuss, get some laughs and some tears, enjoy being together for the exploration, claim Jesus’ promise that when two or three gather in his Name, he is there in the midst of us; and no question cannot be asked or chased. I’ve done a lot of things in life, and at this advanced and hopefully advancing age, my favorite is Bible study with other people -- with the motto I’ve carried for forty years (which in the Bible means “a long time”) from the lintel over the library door of one of my theological seminaries, “Seek the Truth, Come Whence It May, Cost What It Will.”
Seeking, I may never uncover all “Truth” but Bible study is like any journey: getting there is half the fun. Matter of fact, in life itself, getting there is all the fun. Speaking of which, I wonder what ever happened to Becky Thatcher. Oh, and to Amy Lawrence, jealous, angry, and brokenhearted.
I never did see the beat of that boy!
I never did see the beat of that boy!