Jesus was one of us. There is no question that Jesus lived. A scholar friend of mine put it this way: we know he died, therefore, we know he lived. The fact that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person is good news indeed. He saw possibilities in a time of war, oppression, exploitation, suffering, imperial rule. We can too.
Jesus’s divinity has long been a claim of the Christian tradition. The worldview of his time included a hierarchy of being with God at the top and earthly kings just a tad lower. Jesus’s world was defined by language of kingdoms and imperial authority. Caesar claimed the imprimatur of God and used titles such as Lord, Savior, Son of God, Bringer of Peace, Messiah. The early Christian community assigned those titles to Jesus as well. A way of proclaiming a rival kingship, a rival Lordship, a rival kingdom. For his followers, Jesus was Lord, not Caesar. And Jesus offered a vision of world that was in sharp contrast to the world of the imperial ruling authorities.
A world with a different understanding of God with us.
The confessional language of early Christian communities insisted on Jesus’s divinity as well as his humanity as testimony that Jesus was far greater than any king on earth could be and that his vision was paramount. By the fourth century Christianity was declared the religion of the now Holy Roman Empire. That is not to say that Empire became “the kingdom of God” or hastened it. The attempt to wed Empire and Christianity has been fraught from the beginning.
Jesus’s vision as a human being
I think Jesus’s vision and hope for the world is paramount as well. But not because he was divine. But because he was a human being with capacity for compassion, humility, courage, daring, justice, love, creativity, imagination, pluck, wisdom.
Jesus was a teacher of wisdom. He changed the way people saw themselves and each other. His very presence seemed to jostle awake those near to him and even those far off. Jesus had a way of quickening the realization that this life is privilege, and the possibilities are endless and what matters is here and now. Jesus trusted. And for all life’s ambiguities and harsh realities, it is indeed one of joy.
A visionary of human possibility
My hope is that Jesus was like us. And therefore, we can be like him and be for our time what he was for his. A visionary of human possibility. He made the world a better place and insists that we can too.
The historical Jesus holds great hope for us. I love this quote of Albert Schweitzer from his seminal work on Jesus. Schweitzer may have been wrong about Jesus being apocalyptic. But this quote holds for me the ring of truth that continues to this day:
He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side; He came to those who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.
– The Quest of the Historical Jesus (New York: MacMillan, 1956), p. 403
Under “Articles and Posts” is a recent sermon by Marianne Borg given on the feast day of Christ the King which weaves elements of the above conversation.