How does one draw a conclusion to a never-ending story? “Final Thoughts”, as I have written above, would seem to point to a conclusion, but I could no more write a conclusion about Jesus than I could about history in general. Learning continues, experience is added, new insights come to light. For now, all I can say is this:
The personal Jesus I have written about is one I continue to experience from time to time as a presence in my life, a divine reality. This aspect of Jesus is the most difficult to understand and describe, at once the most elusive and approachable, the grace-filled expression of the ineffable God. It’s all a mystery and I accept it as such.
The post-Easter Jesus, the Jesus of Christian tradition – whether “old” tradition or “new” – is the one who worries me most. Like the homeless wanderer on the street, this figure is covered with layer upon layer of clothing, some of it ill-fitting, pretentious or completely out of style. No doubt he was given the clothing to fit a purpose or a context, it was all well-intentioned by his benefactors, but so much of it simply serves to obscure the person at the core. This is the Jesus of names, titles, images and metaphors. All the dressing up says more about us than it does about him. In order to understand this Jesus we have to examine the layers, one by one, and ask why each was given in the first place in its time and context, and establish if it is still fitting and useful for today.
The pre-Easter Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, is the one I want to know more about. This Jesus likely had no idea what he would become (in the experience of his followers) after his execution at the hands of the Romans for being a troublemaker. He was a simple, poor mystical Jew who traveled around teaching wisdom, laying hands on the sick, eating with outcasts, standing in opposition to the domination systems of the elites (both Jewish and Roman), and calling his followers to die to an old way of being and embrace a new one centered in God.
Marcus Borg adequately sums it up for me: “In a single sentence: Jesus is, for us as Christians, the decisive revelation of what a life full of God looks like. Radically centered in God and filled with the Spirit, he is the decisive disclosure and epiphany of what can be seen of God embodied in a human life. As the Word and Wisdom and Spirit of God become flesh, his life incarnates the character of God, indeed, the passion of God. In him we see God’s passion. And we can say that he is the decisive revelation of God for us as Christians without needing to say that he is the only and exclusive revelation of God…for us as Christians, God is defined by Jesus, but not confined to Jesus.”*
*Marcus Borg, “The Heart of Christianity”, p. 88-89