The Thin Jesus of R.C.I.A.
Maybe I am unique in this, maybe not, but I have always found it odd that we burden those in RCIA with the most unrealistic of expectations, the first of which is to jump in at the end of a book.
It may sound strange but I prefer to tell a story from the beginning. And when the story in question is nothing less than what is found in the Bible, that preference becomes more of a need. Here is why.
You’re Not That Old
One of the greatest Christian claims is that this religion is rooted in history. Real events took place; real people spoke and wrote and healed, and all of that happened a long time ago.
Here is a fun fact: you and I weren’t there; but if we were then we would have picked up a few things.
It’s Not All Profane
The ancients saw the world in which they lived as being divided into at least two parts, and the Israelites experienced this most potently. The sacred and the profane; the mundane and the divine.
We see this as Abraham is told to go to a specific place for the sacrifice; we see this when Moses must remove his sandals; and we see this as the cloud of the presence descends upon the Ark of the Covenant. Over and over again, our forefathers and mothers were taught that there exists a divide, and even though we can crossover with the help of a unique person and process, an awareness of the threshold is imperative for life.
Symbols Unaccounted For
Images can be a dangerous thing, and an image that has broken away from the narrative in which it was engendered is more dangerous still. Ask your contemporary what the swastika means and he will most likely be wrong. Ask your children what a rainbow flying high for all to see means and they will be sadly mistaken. And if you ask your ordinary Catholic why on earth the Church wants to brand them with something called a sacrament in a ceremony, you might find more silence than you were hoping for.
And yet, in the ancient world where slaves and soldiers were being branded by those who owned their lives, St. Paul (the Roman citizen, the free man, the Jew) declared that he was a doulos (i.e. a slave) as well. He too had been branded, but the difference was that his sphragis, his sacramentum, was not a symbol indicating to all that his life was now forfeit to this God (though he gladly offers it), rather it pointed to the reality that this Deity, the Master of creation had died for His servants whom He called friends.
This is important, yet it is all hidden behind the symbols of the ancient world.
One Thin Protagonist
Everyone can accept that Jesus was a pivotal player in history simply by observing what happened after him, but Jesus is the long awaited Messiah, the new Davidic King; this is a fact because of what came before him.
And if we remove the Biblical prophecies, the promises, the extra-biblical and Jewish mystical musings, we do not get a different kind of magi traversing the land, we simply get none at all.
And why would they? Jesus becomes thin. A do gooder; a leader, a miracle worker perhaps, but the world was and still is full of these.
So Here Is the Question
If the life of a Christian radically concerns the sacred, the symbols and ultimately the Jesus of the Bible then why are we not radically invested in retelling the story.
You see, the magi who come to R.C.I.A are not expecting to be entertained. They are not expecting scholarship or a skilled rhetorician. What they are looking for is the story in which their lives play a part. They are looking for the Biblical Jesus. Let’s give it to them. Let’s start from the beginning. Let’s tell them the whole story. And maybe, just maybe, the classes will be full again.