Thursday, September 6, 2012

Just Who is This Jesus Anyway?

Jesus Christ lived about 2000 years ago and we still cannot figure out just who or what he was.  Christians and non-Christians alike debate his humanity versus his Godness.  The Early Church and those who followed them hashed out the various doctrines about the Trinity and each member of it and when they came to Jesus they even wanted to know what his body was made of and what he was like when he walked the earth.  Some thought that he was only human when he was on earth.  Others thought that he was only God, almost walking on a cloud.  They debated and argued and hashed it out until finally they came up with what we call "The Nicene Creed" in 325 C.E.  In it they finally declared that Jesus was "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father..."  They also decided that he was "fully human and fully divine."  I don't know how that works but they needed the assurance that even if Jesus looked like a human being, he had the divine spark working within him.

People have asked questions about Jesus through the centuries, questions concerning his childhood, his life as a young adult, his entrance into ministry.  People have wanted to know "at what point did Jesus discover who he was?"  Did Jesus know from the time he was born that he was the Messiah or did it gradually grow on him as he lived among humans and learned what humans were--the good, the bad, and the ugly?  Was Jesus just a regular kid, kicking rocks and wrestling around with his friends?  Did Jesus socialize with other young adults in his town or was he more of a loner?  Was Jesus shy as a teenager or was he the center of attention wherever he went?  Was his baptism the first time that he recognized his divine nature when the Holy Spirit descended upon him or had he known that he was "different" for many years?

Some of the ancients tried to decipher answers to these and other questions about Jesus through reading books about Jesus that never made it into the Bible.  Those "nonbiblical gospels" relate stories about Jesus that were so different from the stories in the four Gospels of our Bible that the compilers of the Bible canon could not include them.  The boy Jesus who could walk on mud puddles or make a mud bird come alive did not seem to be in the same category with the adult miracle working Jesus.  The sayings attributed to Jesus in some of the books do not seem to reflect the same thinking that is included in the Gospel record we have.

We still would like to know if Jesus' humanness dictated to him what he did more than did his godliness or if all things about Jesus were equal especially when we consider stories such as the one we have in this week's Gospel lesson from Mark.  The story is about a Gentile woman coming to see Jesus when he was in Tyre asking Jesus to heal her daughter.  Jesus was trying to get some rest so maybe she woke him up from a nap and he was fussy but when she bowed low and made her request, Jesus basically insulted her saying, "It is not right to give the bread for the children to the dogs."  People today may not mind if you compare them to their Yorkie or Schnauzer or Great Dane but in the ancient world, dogs were not our lovable household pets.  They were more like buzzards, looking for dead animals or people to devour.  They were considered nasty, unclean beasts that people would chase away and of which people were afraid.

The woman whose daughter was ill did not let Jesus' insult to her made her run away.  Instead, she replied, "Even the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from the table."  Jesus must have felt reprimanded by this woman who crossed two social barriers to get to him (women were not to approach men, Gentiles and Jews did not speak to one another).  He told her to go home knowing that her daughter was well--and she was.

So, could the Jesus whom we consider to be sinless, faultless, "God from God" learn something from another human being that he needed to learn?  Could the human Jesus in his humanity, in the moment when his tired, weary body was speaking to him have said something less than loving to another human being and then learn from what he had done by way of a Gentile woman?

If Jesus was truly human and one who "was tested as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15c), then is it not possible that Jesus was a human being with human feelings and emotions, and with a body that got tired and weary and had aches and pains, as we do?  If such a Jesus was human in this way, then he could learn from other human beings, and I think stories such as this show us that part of Jesus that we need to consider.

As Christians we affirm the divinity of Christ, but we also have to affirm that Jesus had flesh and blood and bones and was biologically as we are.  Jesus had the help of the divine in what he did when he walked the earth but if he did not experience what other humans experience in every way, then how could God truly understand what it meant to be human?

I love television programs where characters are placed outside of their natural elements.  The Beverly Hillbillies had mountain folk who found themselves in the richness of Beverly Hills, California and did not know how to live in that place.  The aliens on Third Rock from the Sun were constantly learning what it meant to be human and to feel human.  The smart guys on The Big Bang Theory are always trying to decipher relationships without using a computer to assist them.

Jesus was not in his heavenly element when he roamed the earth.  He was just like you and me, just one of the gang trying to sort out what life was about.  Certainly he was special, divine, much more than the average human, but when he was murdered by the Roman government, his death proved just how human he was, blood dripping down that mechanism of cruelty to which he was attached.  He had pain like any other human being and knew what it felt like for a human to suffer because he suffered greatly.  Maybe that was the last lesson he could learn from others on the planet---humans sometimes insult and hurt each other in ways that cannot be described.

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