Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Human Jesus Is My Savior

I believe that the living Christ (the one I call “Lord”) is more interested in our commitment to God’s covenant, than our veneration—a covenant that calls us to love God with the totality of our being and to love our neighbor (that includes the “enemy”) as ourselves. Jesus never encouraged his disciples to exalt him; he called them to follow him, to be his apprentices, to learn from him how to live in and for God’s kingdom, to trust “Abba” (the loving Father/Mother), and to embrace his cause and passion for justice and mercy, while living in humility.

At one time, I had such an exalted view of Jesus and his divine status that it did me no earthly good. I could not touch or reach Jesus, because Jesus was so high and lifted up. (Sounds like a praise song doesn’t it?) I imagined Jesus as sinless, having never demonstrated a cultural bias, or acted in a selfish way, or entertained a single, lustful thought. He commanded the elements of nature, even walking on water. Well, I knew I couldn’t walk on water. So I worshiped and venerated Jesus, but I couldn’t imagine being like Jesus.

That started to change when I read two books that were part of a Doctoral Seminar at Southern Baptist Seminary (this was in 1991, before the fundamentalist “takeover”; I doubt one could find these books in their library today). One was by a Liberation Theologian from Brazil, Leonardo Boff, titled, Jesus Christ, Liberator. The other was by James Charlesworth, a New Testament scholar specializing in Christian origins, titled Jesus Within Judaism. Then a few years later, I read a book by Marcus Borg titled, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.

I was drawn to and captivated by the Jewish Jesus; Jesus as “the Son of Man”—the human one. And as I began to understand Jesus in his culture, as a sage, a teacher of nonconventional wisdom, a prophet, a Spirit-immersed person, driven by a vision of God’s new world and moved by a deep compassion, especially for the poor, impoverished, and marginalized, the one I regarded (and still regard) as the light of the world began to shimmer with new meaning.

I began to look at Jesus differently, not as one who was perfect, but as one who was completely given to the good and well-being of others. Not as one who was sinless, but as one full of compassion and forgiveness. Not as one who could walk on water, but as one devoted to healing the sick, loving the unlovable, caring for the diseased and demonized, challenging and confronting the injustice of the religious establishment, and exuding a contagious faith, hope, and love. I began to cultivate an understanding and vision of Jesus that I found compelling, calling forth the best that was in me and transformative virtues that I had yet to nurture and develop.

As I studied the Gospels, it startled me that Jesus was never concerned about or centered on his own veneration or exaltation. In fact, when the persons he healed wanted to proclaim him as the Messiah, he told them not to tell anyone. He told his disciples that the people of the world seek positions of power, authority, and veneration, but it was not to be so with them. He instructed them to be servants of all, for “the Son of Man” did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life for the liberation of many.

It is Jesus’ human vision of God’s kingdom, the dream of a world made right, of distributive justice (where all have a fair share of the planet), of forgiveness and reconciliation, and of radical sharing and grace that convicts me, humbles me, and is slowly changing me. Slowly, because old habits and ways of being in the world do not die easily, at least not in me, and I have a long way to go.

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