A few days ago, I posted a review of a book asking “Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?” It engendered quite adamant remarks by a couple of people. For them, suggesting that the earliest Christians didn’t view Jesus as God so much as the conduit by which they communicated face-to-face with the Father was an unbearable heresy.
And then, today’s Gospel in Luke 9: 18-22, we find Jesus asking his disciples that very question. Who am I?
I said even the atheist is called upon to answer this question in some fashion, presumably that Jesus is not God, nor the Messiah, nor the deified Son of God. At most, the atheist is willing to admit that Jesus was a man, and a few would even argue that he did not exist at all. While this last group is so fringe and intellectually devoid of reasoning as to be ignored, of course the atheist cannot be.
As with most things, the spectrum of belief (and make no mistake it is all belief) is broad. From the “he is totally a made-up fantasy,” to “he was a man who preached for a few years and then was executed and his followers created a myth around him” to the other end being I guess the so-called “Jesus freaks” who seem to have adopted him as best friend, brother, and substitute for drugs, sex and rock and roll, “Get high on Jesus!”, everyone has an opinion.
But for most of us, the question is more serious and more thoughtful. It has little to do with fine distinctions of human/God, of begotten, not made, and all the creedal niceties. It has to do with how we incorporate our belief into our lives.
When asked, do you believe in Jesus? the average American is likely to look a bit shocked and uncomfortable, and then gush, “of course I do.” Frankly, they don’t think about Jesus at all, they don’t think about God, nor religion. They are “believers” because well, one is, isn’t one? They haven’t thought enough about the subject to be an agnostic, and perhaps couldn’t define that word anyway. They can’t answer the question of who Jesus is beyond the historic “facts.”
For others, we get the Jesus of the second coming. These are the folks who on Facebook like to post, “Do you love Jesus?” and see how many “like” the statement. Or how many comment with “Yes!” or “Amen.” They like to profess love for Jesus a lot. But this doesn’t answer the question at all, either.
This Jesus-centered Christianity is mostly interested in salvation which usually expresses as telling everyone how to be saved. It oddly, seldom reflects much of anything that Jesus said, but does quote Paul a good deal.
Yet, Jesus said a good deal if we can believe the Evangelists, and there is good reason why we should. The stories of his discourses were so captivating that they were remembered and told again and again until recorded. They were then preached continually for nigh over two thousand years.
And part of discerning who Jesus was and is, revolves around understanding what he said and what he meant. That he spoke up for the peasants in Galilee is clear. Those who had not the wealth and prestige to follow the Law down to its most minute items, those who worked day to night to put food on the table. The tired, the poor, the ill, and those who had, fallen into sin in order to survive. These are the people Jesus spoke up for.
But he also spoke to the Pharisees, those who knew Torah and lived it by their interpretation. He suggested to them that they were trapped in words and doing for doings sake without thought as to the whys and wherefores of the Law. They were missing the point, and in doing so, they were far from the Kingdom of God.
If seen this way, Jesus becomes something of a template for our own lives. How we relate to the least among us, how we relate to power among us. Time and time again, Jesus said, love God and love neighbor, these are the two Commandments. They sum up all the rest don’t they?
The question of who Jesus was and is, is not simple. It is not some intellectual exam question. He can be the selective quote to prove our case on this or that. He can be savior. He can be the lens through whom we see God. He can show us God’s love, compassion, and mercy. He can be our guide, our mirror, our window. He can be a man, a human, a deity, all or none, or some.
I will succeed in my humanity or not, not depending so much on how I answer the question, but how I live the answer. So be careful when you seek the answer, and be even more careful when you reach a conclusion. For to be Christian, it seems to me, we are called to live out that answer.
Who do You say that Jesus is?