Over the last several decades, theologians who focus on evangelization in general, and the moment of catechesis within it in particular, have given considerable thought and attention to the topic of the kerygma, and rightly so. The kerygma can be aptly understood to be the summary of the Gospel; and, as such, it is always deserving of closer study, especially so in an age when Catholicism is waning in many places.
In this three-part series, I’m explaining what the kerygma is and why it’s important. In the first installment, I provided a basic overview of the kerygma, identifying seven essential components: the (1) salvific (2) life, (3) death, and (4) resurrection of (5) Jesus of Nazareth, who is both (6) Christ and (7) Lord. Having already addressed the salvific component in the first installment, here I will focus on the next three components: Jesus’ life, death (including his burial) and resurrection.
Jesus’ Life as Part of the Kerygma
When we think about Jesus’ earthly existence and the kerygma, it’s common to focus on his death and burial. After all, this is when Jesus offered himself for our salvation—another aspect of the kerygma—out of love for the Father and for each and all of us. His complete gift of Himself, his literal self-sacrifice, obviously and rightly garners most of our attention.
However, we ought not skip over the proclamation of Jesus’ life and jump straight to Good Friday and Easter Sunday. In other words, the truth that Jesus really lived a human life is just as much a part of the kerygma as is his death and resurrection. Here we’ll look at just a few reasons why this is so.
First, to acknowledge that Jesus really lived, and that he did so in a specific time and place, as part of a real family and a real people, is to assert definitively that the Christian faith is not a myth. Remember, the kerygma is the proclamation of something that has happened: the Gospel is not a fable or myth that begins “Once upon a time” or “Long, long ago, in a galaxy far away.” No, our faith, at its very core, asserts that he really lived as a man.
Second, acknowledging Jesus’ “real life” also asserts the truth of his humanity: Jesus lived a real, human life. And not only was it real, it was in many ways, really ordinary. While his conception and birth were miraculous, the vast majority of his life was completely ordinary; he was like us in all ways, but sin. Speaking of the part of his life that is unknown to us -- between his parents finding Him in the temple at age twelve and his baptism by John the Baptist around age 30 -- the Catechism tells us that during that time “Jesus shared the condition of the vast majority of human beings: a daily life spent without evident greatness, a life of manual labor” (CCC 531).
One might fairly ask, if much of Jesus’ life was so ordinary, why is it part of the kerygma? The Catechism provides the answer: speaking of his obedience to Mary and Joseph, it tells us that “the obedience of Christ in the daily routine of his hidden life was already inaugurating his work of restoring what the disobedience of Adam had destroyed” (CCC 532). In other words, Jesus’ ordinary life was already the beginning of our salvation: in his obedience to Mary and Joseph, he was already undoing the fall of humanity caused by Adam’s disobedience.
So, to announce Jesus’ life is to proclaim that he really lived, that he was really human, and that much of his life was both ordinary and salvific.