Jesus is an ink blot. Jesus is who you say he is. Who do you say he is? Don’t tell me who Paul says he is, or John, or Matthew, or Mark. Tell me who you say he is. If you say he is the savior of the world, tell me why you think so. If you say because the Bible says so, tell me why you think the Bible knows what it’s talking about. Tell me where you get your ideas about Jesus and what makes you think they can be trusted. If you say you “just take it on faith that Jesus is the savior of the world,” tell me why you decided to take that on faith and not something else instead. Why do you say what you say about Jesus?
I say Jesus is God as God is in God’s essential being. God can’t do better than Jesus. Jesus is God as I would be God if I were going to be God. I couldn’t do better than Jesus. Jesus has it down. Jesus gets it right. You cannot understand Jesus without saying, “Yes! That’s it! That’s how it’s supposed to be done!” Jesus is the self-affirming, self-validating, self-evident way to live.
What’s so godly about Jesus is his integration of the essential values with his life. Justice, compassion, peace, grace, equality, kindness, generosity, gentleness, self-discipline, honoring and respecting self and others, and the like were not just ideals that he espoused, but realities that he lived out in the world. Jesus knew what was important and did what was important. He exhibited what he knew mattered. With Jesus we get complete integrity of being. We get a person aligned with the principles, qualities, and characteristics that are at the heart of life—that are at the heart of God. We can’t do better with life than Jesus did.
Jesus lived without compromising his understanding of how life should be lived. He took “love your neighbor as yourself” to its logical end. He took “love your enemies,” and “love one another,” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and “judge not,” and gave them concrete, consistent, and reliable expression in his life. He lived life as God would live life if God were alive. He took the right idea of God and brought it to life.
The other side of the story is that if you live like Jesus did, you will be marginalized or killed. You will be dismissed, or lynched, or executed. In a different social, religious and political climate, Jesus would have been ignored. He would have been excused as being a little off his rocker, but a good person at heart. And, he would have lived out his life in obscurity, and died without fanfare or recognition.
That’s because it is easy to overlook God. The God of right relationship, of right being, of the right kind of company is easily lost in a world consumed by, and obsessed with, the “p” words: power, position, possessions, and prosperity. To be a God recognized by this world, you have to be the right kind of God. You have to be the kind of God the world would acknowledge as God. You have to be about dominion, and domination, and control. You have to be about winning, and victory, and obliteration. You have to earn the world’s respect if you want to be accorded the accolades of the world. If you want to be God in this world, you have to be God on the world’s terms.
Jesus was killed as much for the kind of God he was as for being God. The Romans killed him because they couldn’t tolerate a competitor, no matter how insignificant, to Caesar. The Jewish authorities sanctioned his death because Jesus represented the wrong kind of God. If Jesus had been the right kind of God, the kind of God they looked for and adored, the Pharisees, Sadducees, Levites and Sanhedrin would have been very much on his side. To be God the way Jesus was God is to ask for it.
To say Jesus is God, to see Jesus as God, is to raise the question of the nature of your God, of our God. Who do we understand God to be? We aren’t going to see God in Jesus if we don’t understand God as Jesus. God is Jesus. Jesus is God. “The Father and I are one.” We are to be who they are. We are to be as God is. “You must be perfect, as whole, as integrated and complete, as God is.” “You must be holy as God is holy.” We bring God to life through the life we live. What is the nature of our lives?
The story of theology, doctrine and the church is the story of trying to have it both ways. It is the story of trying to have the God we want to be God and the Jesus who lived as God is. It is the story of dismissing Jesus and explaining him in light of our idea of how God should be. The Romans killed Jesus and we dismiss him.
As we tell the story, Jesus is no longer God as God is, but the measure by which the God who is God the way we want God to be judges humanity, and condemns the wicked (to the everlasting fires of hell, of course), and ushers the righteous (by faith alone, you know) into the eternal habitations. As we tell the story, Jesus becomes the means by which the mess of life is all worked out to the complete satisfaction of true believers everywhere. We improve Jesus to the point of total dissolution, and lose what he was about by making him about the redemption of the world—and, say that at some dim future point in time he will return again to turn things inside out and make all things finally good, while we sit on the side lines, with our hands in our laps, believing and cheering him on.
What Jesus was about was the transformation of civilization NOW through the reordering of the lives of each one of us NOW. We cannot live in light of the goals, and purposes, and ends that we are currently living in light of and change the world. Just as going on a diet means to quit eating, so changing the world means to live differently. Jesus came talking about living differently. “No siree sir!”, said the Romans. “No siree sir!”, said the Jewish Authorities. And, they did exactly what had to be done to maintain what we today would call “the American Way of Life.”
Jesus has to go, or the American Way of Life has to go. What’s your pick? You don’t think you have to make a pick? Well, okay, you tell me how loving our enemies squares with having the most powerful armed force in the history of the world. You tell me how loving our neighbor as ourselves squares with the homelessness, and poverty, and hopelessness and destitution that are evident on every street in every city of the land. You tell me how doing unto others as we would have them do unto us squares with a foreign policy that is focused exclusively on serving what we perceive to be our national interests and national security. And, when you are quite done embarrassing yourself, I will tell you again that you have to pick between Jesus and the American Way of Life.
But, it isn’t just the American Way of Life. It is the British Way of Life, and the Irish Way of Life, and the French Way of Life, and the Spanish Way of Life, and the Italian way of life… It is the way of life of civilization. We have to pick between Jesus and the way life is lived, because no culture, no society, no tribal group is living the way life ought to be lived. And, we cannot change the world without changing the way we are living our lives.
It’s easier to change Jesus. Here we go. We can say this together by now: “Jesus hadn’t been dead fifteen minutes before everything changed.” We see evidence of the changes inside the New Testament. In Matthew (23:8 and following) we get the admonition, “You must not be called ‘Teacher,’ because you are all equal and have only one teacher…Nor should you be called ‘Leader,’ because your one and only leader is the Messiah. The greatest one among you must be your servant. Whoever makes himself great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be made great” (TEV translation). Then, in Matthew 16:18 and following, we get, “And so I tell you Peter, you are a rock, and on this rock foundation I will build my church… I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; what you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and what you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven” (TEV translation). So. Which way is it? No hierarchy, with everyone being equal, or Peter, the head of the church, jingling the keys to the kingdom of heaven? The church was before the Bible, which means the Bible serves the church and Matthew is laying a foundation for life in the church to go right on being the way life has always been lived.
Paul does the same thing. Paul dilutes, to the point of disappearing, Jesus’ radical pronouncements about the Kingdom of God and its complete juxtaposition with, and alternative to, the Kingdom of Caesar, by saying things like “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1), and “taxes to whom taxes are due” (Romans 13:7). He reverses Jesus’ insistence upon equality and inclusiveness—the implementation of which would have had extreme implications for the practice of patriarchy and slavery—by saying things like “Wives, obey your husbands” (Ephesians 5:22), and “Slaves, obey your masters” (Colossians 3:22). Paul changes Jesus, and keeps the way life is lived wonderfully in place.
We cannot embrace Jesus—we cannot be who Jesus was—without changing our lives—without changing the way life is lived. And, I don’t mean no smoking, no drinking, no gambling and no cussing. I mean doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, loving our enemies, loving God with all our being and loving our neighbors as ourselves. I mean welcoming homosexuals into full inclusivity in the life of culture and society. I mean health care for all people. I mean an end to the systems that produce and support poverty, and homelessness, and the marginalization of human beings. I mean an equitable distribution of the world’s resources. I mean life styles that are environmentally friendly. I mean an end to privilege, and exclusivity, and domination. I mean the transformation of life as we know it. It’s a lot easier to change Jesus, and look forward to the second coming.
It’s easier because we have no idea what the mechanisms are to achieve the end of community, world wide, around the table and across the board. We don’t know how to institute the principles Jesus espoused, how to love one another as we love ourselves. But, that’s the work that is ours to do. Let the conversation, and the revolution, begin!