Who Was Jesus?

Jesus of Nazareth: Week 1

Who Was Jesus?
Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Jesus was from the peasant class. . . . His use of language was remarkable and poetic, filled with images and stories. . . . He was not an ascetic, but world-affirming, with a zest for life. There was a sociopolitical passion to him . . . he challenged the domination system of his day. He was a religious ecstatic, a Jewish mystic, for whom God was an experiential reality. . . . Jesus was an ambiguous figureyou could experience him and conclude that he was insane, as his family did [Mark 3:21], or that he was simply eccentric or that he was a dangerous threator you could conclude that he was filled with the Spirit of God. —Marcus Borg [1]

[H]ow we see Jesus . . .  shapes what we think the Christian life is most centrally about. —Marcus Borg [2]

The Bible is surely the most controversial book ever in print. It has done an immense amount of good. Unfortunately, it probably has also caused more damage than any other text. Throughout history we clearly see how many Christians acted in oppressive, ignorant, and abusive ways in the name of Jesus and the Gospel (two of the most damning examples being the support of slavery and the subjugation and colonization of indigenous peoples). It seems that to many Christians it did not matter what Jesus really said or did. They just needed an imperial God-figure, and Jesus was used to fit the bill. It could just as well have been Howdy Doody.

Thankfully, in the last several decades there has been a turn toward scholarship and theological study that considers the social, spiritual, cultural, political, and economic context in which the Bible was written. We’re trying to be more honest with the Scriptures—inspired by God, as understood by humans—rather than making the Bible say what we want it to say or interpreting it according to our cultural conditioning. Yet God has always risked being misused, misinterpreted, or “man-handled” by God’s own people. For me, this is the deep symbolism of the babe in a manger. God completely, vulnerably gives God’s self over to our care.

Most Christians preconceive Jesus as “the divine Savior of our divine church,” which prematurely settles all the dust and struggle of his human experience. Such a predisposition does not open us to enlightenment so we also can have the mind of Christ, but in fact, deadens and numbs our perception. Too often we read the Bible with an eye to prove this understanding of “our” Jesus so that our ideas and our church are right—and others are wrong. If we are honest enough to admit this bias, we may have a chance of letting go of it for a richer understanding of the Gospel.

The biblical authors, disciples, and church founders were also ordinary humans—people like you and me. I hope that understanding these people and their world will help us see who Jesus really is and what his mission always will be. There is no other possible reform of Christianity—and it will never cease.

References:
[1] Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (HarperSanFrancisco: 2006), 164. Borg originally offered these comments on NBC’s Today Show, Good Friday, 1995.
[2] Ibid., 307.

Adapted from Richard Rohr and John Bookser Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1996), vii-viii.

Image credit: The Taking of Christ (detail), Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1602, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland.
Jesus was a person radically centered in God, empowered by that relationship, and filled with God’s passion for the world—a passion that led to his execution and vindication. —Marcus Borg [1]

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