Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Jesus We Know and the Jesus We Do Not Know… (yet)

It is always nice to take walks in a large city. There are many people to see. Apart from getting fashion ideas from my promenades, I come face-to-face with reality. As a man walks by me, I notice how ordinary he looks. Dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt, he is just another man. Later, as I’m eating lunch at a cafe, I notice that the same man is standing in line to buy a salad. Nothing fancy. As I get up to leave, I notice that he has a few friends with him. They are all sitting round a table, eating and talking about this, that, and the other. I am certainly not eaves-dropping or spying, so I walk past with only a quick glance. Later, I will forget them altogether. Especially, the man in jeans whom I’d seen twice that day. I forget him after a few hours. And if he was the King, I certainly wouldn’t have known it from his physical appearance.

2,000 years ago, an ordinary man walked the Earth.
This man “Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
 something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
 and found human in appearance,
 he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8).

Thus, when the disciples met Jesus by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, they did not see a man surrounded by glory with a halo on his head but an ordinary man, not even a Temple Elder. “Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Are not his sisters all with us? Where did this man get all this?” And they took offense at him.” (Matthew 13:55-57a). But surely he did miracles. There was no question of his identity then. Right?

I will continue to maintain that miracles can only be seen through the eyes of faith. At most, miracles can convince someone “on the fence”, but those who do not want to believe won’t believe. So, how do we know that this ordinary carpenter’s son is God? If we do not know from any external evidence then how can we know? We know Jesus was and is God because He said so. It is natural to question this claim. How do we know that this man is who he claims to be? The answer is not logical and does not use reason. The answer is faith. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). It is only faith that proves to us that this man who will eventually be crucified for treason is God. This faith, Paul admits, is “a stumbling to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23b). There were many false prophets prior to Jesus. In our time, there have been many false prophets as well.

It is on the cross that we come to know God face-to-face because only God would accept the cross. All other false prophets would recant if faced with the cross. However, I must admit that I never cease to be awed by the disciples who believed in Jesus even when their Master was living - who believed just because He said He was the One Israel was seeking. Like the man in the blue jeans and tee-shirt who I hypothetically encountered, Jesus was an ordinary man with an extraordinary claim. In Israel, everyone had their own view of who the Messiah was supposed to be, and many overlooked the ordinary Rabbi whose only weapon was Love. While theologians have created and continue to create logical explanations for the existence of God or the divinity of Jesus, we are continually reminded of the fact that the disciples were not Biblical scholars. They did not receive a doctorate in philosophy. We worship a God who spoke and the world was created. One of the most powerful lines in the entire Bible is Genesis 1:3 in which the author writes, “Then God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light.” Whether the world was created in a few thousand years or over 3.5 billion years, you can be sure that it was God who willed it. Jesus in the New Testament is the Word incarnate. Whatever Christ says is the Truth whether or not it makes logical sense. What do you read in the Gospels that you cannot logically accept? Do you believe that Jesus is the Word? For me, it helps to say to Christ, “I believe because You said so.”

Christ too recognizes the fact that faith is an illogical leap. “And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me” (Luke 7:23). Let us not forget all the martyrs of the early Church and all those who die today for their faith. Most of Jesus’ disciples were killed for following Christ so how were they blessed? Once again, the blessing is not necessarily something we can see but something we believe in through faith. We believe that because Jesus was who He said He was, He had the power to die for the sins of the world. We believe that because Jesus was who He said He was, we too will experience the Resurrection. After all, because we believe Christ, we believe in His Resurrection. The Resurrection is only seen through the eyes of those who already believe in Him. The blessing is not necessarily health, wealth, and earthly happiness but everlasting life with God. “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). All these things Jesus promised his disciples so long ago, even while he was walking the Earth and looked like an ordinary human. If we do not know the human Jesus then we cannot know or recognize the glorified Jesus when he comes again.

It is true that Jesus will come again. But the proof of Christ’s divinity is found in faith. The glorified Jesus we do not know yet, but the human Jesus we do. And this human Jesus who was at once God and man – this Jesus was the fullness of God. In the meantime, there is much that we need to do to help Christ accomplish what He wants to accomplish on Earth. Even if Jesus does not return in your life time or even in the next 2,000 years, Jesus’ words are enough. For, it is in His words that we find the fullness of life. I believe, Lord, because You said so.  Because of faith, I know that my sins can be forgiven and that death does not have the last word. Because of faith, I know that there is hope even in seemingly hopeless situations.

As Blessed John Paul II once said, "Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song."

Recommended Reading: Training in Christianity by Søren Kierkegaard

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