|The Almighty really, deeply human|
Native Americans said, Walk in anothers moccasins to understand that person.
Early in being a pastor a member who had a serious drinking problem asked me to come talk about how to stop drinking. After we talked, and with his permission I called a local club of Alcoholics Anonymous. As I expected, an A.A. was ready to come. When they started talking, I could tell they had significant common ground. The man from my church was being understood and was understanding in a special way.
Many years later I visited a member in the hospital who had just learned that he must have a leg amputated. I said what I could, but after I left I called a member of our church who lost most of one leg in World War II. Amazingly, most members of our church did not know that, for he walked and worked as any other man in our church. I explained to him about the man in the hospital, and he quickly agreed to go after work. After he got there, he did what he did for me some time before. After I got to know him, one day he said he wanted to show me something, and pulled up a pants leg to show me his prosthesis. In the hospital that afternoon he did the same, then talked with this frightened man about living after losing a leg — as he had for twenty years!
So the Almighty God can feel all we feel — fear, anger, joy — this Lord God walked in our moccasins, experienced the vast variety of our human experiences. I believe Jesus was entirely, thoroughly human — growing, learning, interacting, listening! He laughed! He sang! He usually refers to himself as the “Son of Man.” — a human, everyperson — woman or man. "The Son of Wo/man." I think Jesus wanted to emphasize his humanity.
Branch Rickey who worked with young men said, "Would that I knew the turbulence of his adolescence, and his questionings (during) his young manhood." Anne Lamott wrote: "If I were God, I would have provided a much easier way—an Idiot's Guide, or a spiritual ATM, or maybe some kind of compromise. But no, even Jesus had to learn by doing, by failing, by feeling, by being amazed. God sent Jesus to join the human experience, which means to make a lot of mistakes. Jesus didn't arrive here knowing how to walk. He had fingers and toes, confusion, sexual feelings, crazy human internal processes. He had the same prejudices as the rest of his tribe: he had to learn that the Canaanite woman was a person. He had to suffer the hardships and tedium and setbacks of being a regular person."
What about the Christmas stories?
The poetic Christmas narrative and carols are the beautiful stage dressing that backdrops the central event to emphasize the event at center stage! That event is this One who:
Who/what was/is Jesus?
Like all Jewish boys of that time, he learned the craft of his father, a carpenter. Working as a teen-age apprentice he had calluses on his hands as he learned to build walls straight and roofs that drained rain. He chatted with the men of the village of Nazareth — listening, learning, laughing.
He heard the expectant talk about a prophet at the Jordan River. He was drawn with others to John the Baptizer. Just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw "the heavens torn apart" and a voice from heaven said, "You are my Son. With you I am well pleased." In Jesus our yearning for the Ultimate interacted with God's parenting concern for us!
I passionately believe that God "whom no eye has seen…" became one with the eager Jesus! Now God feels what Jesus feels and sees; God acts through Jesus.
My view is called "adoptionism." We adopted an infant sister to the son born to us; we experienced the richly faceted life of adoption.
A Greek mystic, Nikos Kazantzakis, wrote an enchanting, fictional version of Jesus life that was made into a film by Martin Scorsese. In the book as Jesus walks in the wilderness he comes across a skeleton. Knowing the Jewish Law and tradition well, having been to the Jerusalem Temple with his family, he knew that once a year in the Feast of Atonement the High Priest drove a goat, a special goat, the scapegoat into the wilderness to symbolically carry the sins of the people. Now Jesus looks at a skeleton, recognizes that it is a goat, that it must be the scapegoat, and as he looks at it, Kazantzakis visualizes that Jesus begins to see that he himself must carry the sin of the people in death Jesus is the scapegoat. But we may ask how can a goat — or Jesus carry the sins of others. For further thoughts click here.
His teachings and healings were the core of his work. These incidents were retold for decades within the egalitarian Christian community. The Sermon on the Mount is about what we do with not a word about beliefs or the stuff of creeds. An amazing collection of teachings written mere decades after Jesus said them is in the Gospel of Thomas!
The religious leaders began to take offence at what he taught. He was not teaching the party line. He challenged their understanding of the Sabbath observances. He threatened their turf. He confronted oppressive Pharisees and dominating priests. Many people welcomed the new teaching of Jesus. Unlike the Pharisees he welcomed, ate, and conversed with any one.
Thomas Moore writes, "He is outrageously forgiving and accepting. He deals directly with the demonic in people and rids them of its influence. He heals people of their suffering. He teaches a rule of love rather than obligation. This set of values is fairly simple yet mind altering."
The most remarkable quality of Jesus was he rejected his dominance culture — a hierarchical culture in which women and children were to be subjugated. He welcomed women just like men. Women were in his inner circle, very close to him, and he depended on them. He related to women just as he did to men. He talked with and responding to sisters Mary and Martha openly and directly. There is no sign of Jesus looking down on them as inferior or secondary. On Easter morning the women were the first to go to where Jesus had been laid after the crucifixion.
He healed the sick. He touched lepers though Jews must never let the shadow of a leper touch them! He invited children and blessed them. Perhaps one of the best words to describe Jesus is warmly welcoming. His teachings continued what prophets had taught for social justice and social healing, focusing on the needy and poor!
In the Old Testament Torah or Law — Genesis through Deuteronomy — the command repeated most often is to welcome the stranger. They are to welcome the stranger, because they were strangers in Egypt. Jesus placed love of God and love of neighbor, being neighborly, at the center of our life. He reiterates the Law to welcome strangers. If we love neighbors, if we are neighbors, we welcome strangers. What we do for the stranger, feeding, visiting, clothing we are doing to God as he told in Matthew 25.31–46. Jesus started a new paradigm, replacing the dominance culture with an egalitarian!
He had a last supper with his closest followers that was a reminder of or an echo of the single greatest liberation event in Jewish history — Passover — when Jews were "passed-over" by death the night before they left dark, bleak enslavement in Egypt.
Jesus then was seized, bound, beaten, and tried before the religious leaders — Jews then but not today's Jews! Religious leaders are frequently most interested in their position and power. They often want to control and be dominant, to subjugate people. Review the history of Christian Churches or Islam whenever either could get their tentacles into power or government.
Jesus was then tried before the Roman ruler, and lynched. He died late on Friday, just before the Sabbath that is our Saturday. As part of religious traditions of cleanliness and defilement, he was hastily put in a tomb before Sabbath began at sundown.
Think of pictures of lynchings. The distorted body of the man — usually Black — who later information may show to be innocent. And see the others around grinning, satisfied, including children. To visualize the crucifixion see the horrors of a lynching. The New Testament refers to crucifixion as "hanging from a tree."
At sunup after the Sabbath our Sunday the women went to the tomb to begin the rituals for the body that could not be done earlier because of the Sabbath. They reported they felt he was alive, and the major way we can understand that is what happened to people. The New Testament skips theoretical questions about what happened to tell what it means to people. Simon Peter was a man of loud boasts but little courage under fire, but after Easter he courageously confronts his enemies, and speaks out wisely and forcefully — utterly changed. And one of the persecutors of the early Church, hurrying to Damascus, is confronted by the risen Jesus and Paul is utterly changed. Changes in people continue through the centuries. The man who started my faith-tradition was scared, until he felt a warm presence while listening to Martin Luther's preface to Pauls letter to the Romans. Then like Peter he speaks boldly to large crowds with courage and insight. He organizes his followers into groups to study, to learn, to worship, to serve. Today the church is the body of Christ, alive. As the church works for healing between groups and people, works for health and peace and justice, Christ is alive in-deed!!
What is the New Testament Greek word for saved? It means deliverance in this life — deliverance from disease or imprisonment. We are imprisoned by habits and addictions not only to chemicals but to work — workaholics who spend more time at work than with their children and partners. We are delivered to become humane!
Salvation is the turbulent meeting of self-centeredness and loving neighbor. It is the clash of independence and interdependence. It is the balance between self-interest and community interest. In that turbulence we want to feed, clothe, shelter, and take care of our own, but our community intrudes. Salvation is within ourselves as we are conflicted by our humane and selfish thoughts. Christ comes to liberate us from self-centeredness, so we can actually be neighbors. Grace awakens our sensitivity to the people around us. Grace awakens us to the masks that self-centeredness wears. God shows his loving care for us while we are caught up in our self-centeredness.
All the power of self-centered interests, control freaks, manipulators got rid of him — but he lives! Someone said he is let loose on the world. He is at work among us and through us and in us!
Albert Schweitzer wrote:
I suggest three major insights.
First insight: really human
We know that one who has lived successfully for 20 years without one leg can help in an unusual way one who is about to lose a leg. This fact seen often in alcoholics and drug addicts in recovery as well as many others demonstrates that the Almighty One learned incredibly by being a real human. Today many people find this One meaningful because he has experienced from within the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings of people. He experienced the breadth and depth of human experience! This One has felt what we feel.
Second insight: the cross
When Jesus died, it was easy for those nurtured in this sacrificial system to understand Jesus’ death in those terms. The "Letter to the Hebrews" in the New Testament expands on the meaning of a priestly, sacrificial understanding of Jesus. But the Apostle Paul has minimal references to Jesus’ death as a blood sacrifice. Today many churches minimize those images to follow Paul in emphasizing God acting to break down whatever barriers we may feel separate us from the God of Jesus.
Many theories try to plumb the meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Most of those theories are dated and reflect the philosophies of their time. We want to think, to reason, to have answers, but this One wants us to feel and to trust before we think.
One intriguing theory I find meaningful is that in the crucifixion the forces of evil in government and organized religion of dominance and influence peddling, of control freaks and manipulators confronted the force of love and grace in Jesus, so they got rid of him. In the resurrection the One conquered those forces, and is at work now when his deputies confront those same powers of evil. The Apostle Paul may have been thinking similar thoughts in Romans 8.37 – 38.
To grasp what happened in the crucifixion and resurrection, consider the feelings of a group of soldiers or marines in close combat when a grenade is hurled into their midst, and one falls on it, absorbing the explosion, and liberating the others. We glimpse what the crucifixion and resurrection mean in events of our lives, in the lives of people, and in plays and films that probe into people being reconciled and liberated.
We may see some meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection in some hymns that relate our feelings to his:
Third insight: in our lives
We are to be neighbors, to be sensitive to needs of individuals and groups, and respond to them We must replace dominance with egalitarian, partnership relationships that value and enhance every one!
To understand more, read the Gospel of Mark the first gospel to be written. Read it in a recent translation with the same attitude that you read the news. Read it freshly, trying to enter into the feelings of the persons. Visualize yourself as the leper who falls at Jesus feet — yourself with all your feelings and hurts. Visualize yourself as the cripple lowered through the roof to the feet of Jesus — crippled in whatever limits you. Put yourself in the persons listening intently, trying to understand his words. Feel the impact that this amazing One had on people.
George F. Macleod of Scotland put it well, "Always remember, there is a man in God!" There is a Guy in God!
Copyright © 2003, 2015 John F. Yeaman
See George F. Macleod's book Only One Way Left.