Following Jesus the Human One

sagrado-corazon-jesus

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

Is Jesus of Nazareth God? Traditionally, many Christian`s have often answered this question in the affirmative suggesting that Jesus is in essence God. However, is it correct to suggest that Jesus in essence is  literally God? In my understanding of Jesus’ identity and mission I do not equate Jesus to God – in the sense that Jesus is literally God, rather Jesus is the archetypal Human One who taught and is teaching us what it means to be human. In suggesting that Jesus is God, the writers of the gospels are making theological statements about their experiences with Jesus the Human One pre-Easter and post-Easter.

In saying that Jesus is God the writers of the gospels are communicating to their readers this truth,namely, that in and through the person of Jesus, God is definitively and decisively revealed and experienced.

According to Jesus, being human is intimately related to God and the way that we live in relation with our neighbors both near and far. The way of God (the kingdom message) that Jesus proclaimed was rooted in peace, justice, compassion, humility and it was this message in a violent, unjust, uncompassionate and arrogant world that Jesus’ disciples trusted and hoped. To put it in another way, it was precisely Jesus’ proclamation of God’s way (kingdom) that permitted Jesus’ disciples to have hope for a present where in which peace, justice, compassion and humility would reign. Nevertheless, in rejecting the presumption that Jesus is God – in God’s essence – I do not reject the reality that the Human One is the revealer of Godself. Thus, speaking about Jesus in my perspective is to speak about how God has revealed Godself in Jesus – the Human One.

What does one make of the God-language applied to Jesus in the gospel of John? Was the writer of the gospel of John equating Jesus with the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Hagar and Ishmael? Was the writer of the gospel of John proposing that Jesus – in his essence – is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Hagar and Ishmael? Or was the writer of John’s gospel using God-language to highlight something different about the person of Jesus?

It seems to me that the Jewish monotheistic writer of John’s gospel did not assume Jesus’ divinity, rather the writer of John used God-language in order to highlight God’s nearness (immanence) in Jesus’ person. In using the term Word (Logos), the writer seems to be making use of a familiar way to speak about God, precisely, a way that sought to understand Jesus’ mission in terms of a Word/Wisdom dynamic.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.[1]

Envisioning Jesus in terms of Wisdom/Word is not uncommon to Judaism. In Judaism, especially in Second Temple Judaism the Wisdom/Word of God were personified concepts that were often used to creatively and figuratively speak about God’s actions in the world. Even more interesting, Wisdom/Word categories were concepts used by Israel to talk about God’s nearness to humanity without infringing upon God’s ‘transcendence’.[2] For example, in Proverbs 1-9 Word/Wisdom is portrayed as an attractive and persuasive woman – particularly “Word/Wisdom claims to have been created at or as the beginning of creation, and to have been the companion of God in his creative acts, ‘like a master worker (or a little child)’ (8:22, 30).” Even more, in the book of Sirach Word/Wisdom also praises herself and is described a fashioner of all things (Sir. 24:1-5).[3] In attributing God-language to concepts, such as, Wisdom/Word, Israel was enabled to figuratively speak about how God interacted (and is interacting) with the creation. As one writer comments,

Israel did not insist that the only way to envisage God’s interaction with his creation and with his people was by was by confessionally affirming the oneness of God. Israel in her language about God was more adventurous and liberal (or liberating) in their poetic and metaphorical God-talk. Their understanding of how God acted gave rise to imagery and symbols that at times may seem grotesque, but that together expressed the diverse reality of Israel’s experience of God’s acting on their behalf…Wisdom was not regarded as a ‘semi-divine’ intermediary, but was a way of speaking of God’s activity in creation and salvation.[4]

Thus, in identifying Jesus with God’s Word/Wisdom, the writer of John’s gospel is not suggesting that Jesus is God, rather the writer is suggesting that in the Human One God has come near.

What about Jesus’ uniqueness? How is Jesus unique if he is not God? Traditionally, Jesus’ uniqueness would be understood in terms of divinity. However, while believing in Jesus’ uniqueness, I do not assume that Jesus is God.

The writers of the gospels seem to suggest Jesus’ uniqueness arises from his function as the Jewish Messiah (Son of God). Thus, in contrast to the viewpoint that supposes  Jesus’ divinity, the writers of the synoptic gospels seem to posit that Jesus’ uniqueness flows from his function as the Christ (the Messiah, Beloved, Son of God, the Anointed One).

The writers of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) appear deeply concerned with ‘re-presenting’ Jesus in light of the broader scheme of Israel’s story.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” – Mark 1:1-3

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” – Matthew 1:18-23

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. – Luke 1:32-36

According to the gospel writers (and the disciples), Jesus is the realization of Israel’s hopes in God to establish God’s kingdom of peace and justice on earth. Thus, the gospel writers seem to understand Jesus’ uniqueness to flow from his ‘choseness’, namely, his ‘choseness’ as God’s Messiah (God’s Beloved, King, Anointed) through whom God has inaugurated the kingdom of Godself.

How does one participate in this way of God (in the kingdom) proclaimed by Jesus? Participation in the way of Jesus demands conversion. In using the word conversion, I do not mean conversion to a particular religion but I mean converting oneself to the way of God that was lived and proclaimed by Jesus.

The way of God is the way of compassion, love, peace, righteousness (justice), humility, virtue (goodness; blamelessness) and it is rooted trusting God. The way of God is a way that stands in solidarity with poor, hurting, suffering ostracized, marginalized and the dehumanized. The way of God proclaimed in Jesus’ person is a way that seeks the healing and restoration of humanity and it is a way open to all people of all colors, religions, orientations and genders – the way of blessedness proclaimed by Jesus in Matthew and Luke. However, in the same manner that God’s way demands conversion it also demands a continual position of repentance from unjust, violent, arrogant, hateful and uncompassionate ways. In participating in the way of God we become people of God’s kingdom – a reality of justice and peace. Even more, in participating in the way of God we become participators with God bringing the Kingdom of Godself into our present reality.

Understanding Jesus through this lens does not place a gulf between humanity and Jesus, it provides us with one to look to in times of weaknesses, doubt, despair and struggle.

In encountering Jesus, we encounter one who has lived and experienced life just as we have, yet in discovering Jesus we find strength to hope in God as he did throughout his life. In Jesus we are provided with the energy to hope in our acts of compassion, justice, peace, kindness, love, mercy and solidarity towards our neighbors and we are given the stamina to hope in God’s restorative plan for the world – a plan that is brought about through our participation with God.

The peace of God be with you.

—–

[1] Oxford University Press. The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books : New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. John 1

[2] James D. G. Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? : The New Testament Evidence (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). (Kindle Edition)

[3] Ibid. (Kindle Edition)

[4] Ibid. (Kindle Edition)

[5] Oxford University Press. The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books : New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Matthew 1.

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