"Inaugural Jesus," a Commentary by Martin E. Marty

January 26, 2009

Author: Martin E. Marty

Source: Ponderings On a Faith Journey


The apostle Paul claimed that Jesus, in the form of "Christ crucified," was "a stumbling block [skandalon=scandal=offence] to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles." (I Corinthians 1:23) Jews+Gentiles=pretty much everybody. You may ask, "What is Jesus doing in Sightings," given this column's assignment to deal with religion in public life? Try this: Saturday my internet search engine turned up 484,000 references to "Jesus" or "Christ" linked with "inauguration," and yours will find even more by today. That's "public."

So Jesus is my topic, as we leave the inaugural events behind but still have controversies ahead. Many citizens are at ease with prayers in pluralistic America when they are generic, civil, God-ly. Invoke Jesus, however, and not a few are scandalized by the reference, while others are scandalized by the scandalized. I propose a thesis; correct me if I have it wrong, lest I keep spreading wrongness. Thesis: Jesus is not the scandal. The use of Jesus in public at "we the people of the United States" occasions is usually the offence. Jesus gets from one- to four-star ratings in the following publics: