Because My Mother Taught Me

Q: Many people are drawn to the Easter story wanting to believe, trying to believe. In one of your sermons, you say that the Presbyterian pastor, David H.C. Read, once told his congregation: "One of the reasons I believe in the resurrection is that my mother told me. And to this day a strong element in my belief is the number and quality of the people who told me." It's such a simple reply. What did he mean?

A: People are always quoting that back to me. It seems to be a very memorable line. I wish I could think of a line of my own that people were quoting as much as that line of David Read's. I'm a little worried about it, actually, because I meant it to be just one of many, many things that I was saying. I didn't realize people were going to focus on that to the exclusion of virtually everything else.

It could sound a little bit sentimental. It could sound a little bit naïve. It could sound a little anti-intellectual or antirational -- to believe something just because your mother told you. Some people's mothers have told them to be on crazy diets or to take useless medications. Mothers tell children a lot of things that are not true. I wouldn't want to put too much emphasis on that. The point that David Read and I both are making is that, in the case of the crucifixion and resurrection, witnesses can be trusted. That's the important thing. When I have doubts about the resurrection, which I do pretty much every day, I always go back to Paul's chapter in Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15), and invariably it restores my confidence that something really happened. I know Paul pretty well by now, after 50 years of studying him, and I believe Paul's telling the truth. Ultimately that's what Christian faith rests on -- that the witnesses are telling the truth. All this modern discussion about the historical Jesus doesn't touch that. I was just reading an article in The New York Review of Books by E. P. Sanders, which is highly critical of the latest book that has come out of the Jesus Seminar. He makes a wonderful point at the end of his essay. He says that what the Jesus Seminar scholars have overlooked is that Jesus is talking about God, and the action of God and the power of God and the intervention of God to bring about his kingdom. All this talk about what sort of genre Jesus preached and what type he was, how he fit into his time -- it's all interesting, and some of it's important, but to overlook the fact that Jesus was about God is a fairly large oversight.

- Fleming Rutledge, in a Religion & Ethics Newsweekly interview, April 18, 2003, Episode no. 633