Friday, September 28, 2012

Jesus: How human was he?

On our Chaplaincy Facebook site we've been talking about the recent discovery of a Coptic manuscript that contains the sentence, "Jesus said, 'My wife....'".
All the
Da Vinci Code / Mary Magdalene conspiracy theory chatter has been reignited!

As it happens, the Manuscript is looking increasingly likely to be a forgery (see Mark Goodacre's blog for scholarly opinion). That aside - how human do we want Jesus to be?

Christians speak of Jesus as God incarnate, God in human form. What does this mean?
One thing it
doesn't mean is that Jesus is simply an all-powerful God wearing a human-suit.

It is
not the case that if you scratched him you'd find God "underneath".
No - he is
fully human. After all, the Letter to the Hebrews even speaks of Jesus having to "learn" things.

To speak of God Incarnate, means to speak of Jesus as God
translated into human form.
Take an English sentence, translate it into French. There is no English left, only French, and yet the meaning remains. A mystery...

For me, Jesus is what God looks like when translated into a human life. Gone is the transcendence, all you can see is immanence - a glorious
human life containing fear, confusion, puzzlement, joy, excitement and hope.

And those are the emotions I currently see around me in the new and returning faces of students and staff.
So this is good news, for Jesus is therefore "God-on-our-side", sharing our stuff and doing something amazing in it.

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.
Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:15-16).

(Chaplaincy "Thought for the week")

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Divine not human things..."

Preparing a sermon for the past Sunday I was working with the story of Jesus and Peter at Caesarea Philippi.

Jesus tells Peter "you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things".

I wanted to suggest that Jesus was not suggesting Peter ought to be thinking more about angels and less about bank accounts. Rather the contrast is more like Paul on "flesh" and "spirit".

There are two ways to live: an earthly way, based on a closed-system view of relationships, and a transcendent way.

These alternatives are particularly pertinent in dealing with conflict, whether personal or social (and the original context of the Jesus-Peter conversation is about Messiahs - those figures who promise "save" us from whatever we feel is threatening us).

An "earthly", "human" response to an attack is to strike back. It is the natural response. The system remains closed.

A "divine" way, although rarely clear in advance, is an attempt to break out and transcend a closed cycle with a creative response. It may involve humour, forgiveness, imagination. It will be uncertain in its outcome, surviving on promise and hope. It will look rather akin to what Gandhi called Satyagraha.

The transcendent, divine way will also involve a cost to the self. This may be a swallowing of pride, an absorption of pain (rather than the returning of it), and a declining of satisfaction.

This is why, I suggested, the passage ends with the famous call "if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me".

The cross was the punishment uniquely reserved for rebels. There will be a cost for following the "divine" way, for "rebelling" against the closed system.

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