Saturday, 7 January 2012

Aspects of Jesus

I like thinking about Jesus from the point of view of a disciple who does not yet know that Jesus will be resurrected. It's a thought experiment that forces a perspective. The disciples are recorded in the gospels as confessing Jesus as Christ before his crucifixion or resurrection, but there isn't much to support how they reached that conclusion. In short: why call Jesus the Christ if the ultimate sign of God's approval has not been given?

For my thought experiment, I'm left to ask which aspect of Jesus was convincing. Jesus the teacher? Jesus the wonder-worker? It was, after all, the pre-resurrection Jesus who did most of the preaching and wonders and so on. Lately, I think we could identify a few aspects of Jesus to consider.

The teachings; the words he said. Maybe this is Jesus as philosopher or ethicist. There's a lot to be gained in the world if the teachings were adopted without any creedal statements. Are they enough for a declaration of faith? There were other Rabbis at the time, some of whom had similar things to say, but did they have followers who called them Christ?

The signs; sometimes mistakenly called miracles. The gospels call them signs. They're supposed to point to something, or represent something. The ancient world is full of thaumaturges, so what's special here?

The acts; the things he did. Think of these as different to signs, but equally demonstrative. When he paraded into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, I'm sure it wasn't an accident. He deliberately told his disciples to get him a donkey. He probably knew that it was a religiously and politically significant act. Also consider the last supper, in which he washed feet and took over the meanings of the Passover meal for his own purposes. Acts with meanings.

The character; what people met in relation. When Jesus had conversations with others, not teaching sessions. What was it about the character he showed then?

It's possible to separate these things, but we're left with a pile of pieces. The teachings could have been anonymously written down. The signs could have been from other wonder-workers, or several others. The acts could have been from several others. The character is the exception, though. Without the others, we wouldn't see the same character. Put the pieces all together, though, and we're left with Jesus that people called Christ.

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