I’ve been eager to get to the subject of “Jesus”, but a bit leery too. Blaise Pascal’s oft quoted comment about God creating humankind in God’s image, and humankind returning the favour is perhaps even more true of Jesus. His humanity makes him more accessible and malleable: like clay in our hands, we make of Jesus what we will, we form him into an image that fits our own perception, need or whim. By way of example, take a look at four random images I cut from an internet search just now:
Dude Jesus, Sacred Heart Jesus, Gay Jesus and Jewish Jesus….all of these iterations, and the many more of which they are but a sampling, reflect aspects of Jesus that are at once both popular and personal. They may convey no greater meaning to us than does a Coca Cola sign or, conversely, they may point to deeply held convictions about who Jesus was and what he means for us today. (Just looking at them I find I’m intrigued by Jewish Jesus, but I think Gay Jesus is the one I’d invite home for dinner, a glass of wine and a good chat.)
And so, I add my own story to the mix. To most of you it will be nothing more than one of the many portrayals of Jesus you pass each day before moving on. Yet I hope my personal journey and development might be of some encouragement for a few who are on a path similar to my own.
As a starting point I believe it should be obvious that Jesus of Nazareth is a real historical figure. Yes, the extra-biblical record of his existence is as thin as can be, but the theory advocated in some academic circles a few years ago – that the entire Jesus account is a fabrication – doesn’t itself seem credible.
With regard to the record that we do have, the Gospels and other New Testament writings: The things I said about the Bible in previous posts holds true here as well. Some of the scriptures we have seem true in a modern, historical sense; but other parts, which are also presented as “the gospel truth”, are in fact embellishments, add-ons and edits. (Imagine a collection of reflections on the life of an influential, controversial politician, written by his or her most ardent admirers some years later; taking it all at face value may not be the best approach.) Even so, the historical veracity – or lack thereof – of these documents does not discount their worth to us. Wisdom comes packaged in surprising ways.
Finally, the story of Jesus as I have experienced it has three distinct parts. The pre-Easter Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, is presented to us primarily as a wandering radical prophet who caused a stir across his homeland and whose teaching was so fundamentally different from the message of the religious elites that most of his followers (even those today) have a hard time living by it. The post-Easter Jesus, Jesus Christ, is the Jesus encountered by his perplexed community which spent decades (no, centuries) trying to work out what his reappearance to them actually meant in cosmic terms. They still don’t agree. And finally, there is the ever-present Jesus as companion, the Personal Jesus, experienced in as many different ways as there are individuals who profess to know him.
For whatever reason, my journey with Jesus has occurred in reverse order to what I’ve just described and, in my memory, began with a sinner’s prayer.