(This post will be a challenging read for some out there. I only ask you keep an open mind, and read all the way through before making and judgments. Be open to my style of presentation. No heresy exists, but I do challenge the age old ways of thinking, and I do toy with the possibility of heresy. Expand your mind and try to see beyond your initial knee jerk reaction.)
Rarely has one man ever caused so much controversy as has the man known as Jesus of Nazareth. It does not matter by which name you refer to Him, what does matter is who he was, and continues to be in the hearts of those who follow his teachings. He was a man born under Roman rule into a Jewish family. You can refer to Him as Jesus, Yahshua in Hebrew (remember he was Jewish [Brown, Raymond E., Fitzmyer, Joseph A., and Roland E. Murphy. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1999. Print.]), or by any of the other many and varied names people have chosen to call Him, but regardless of what you choose to call Him, He remains the same person: a Savior for roughly 2.1 Billion people world-wide. His name has even been translated to Isa though He was not Muslim. But again, how you decide to call this individual does not matter.
There is no proof to the contrary, so we can assume that in fact Jesus was a real person who walked this earth around 2000 years ago. There really is no question as to whether or not he existed. The debate begins when the subject of Jesus’ divine identity is raised. Almost every major religion teaches that Jesus was at the very least a prophet, a good teacher, or a godly man. If we leave things there for the moment, then even in those descriptions we have an individual who was able to rise above the pettiness of position jockeying, and was able to show people a way to live which was entailed of letting go of suffering and pain, and receiving happiness and love. Again, there is very little argument that Jesus, the Man, taught people how to live better lives.
Even if the real Jesus was nothing more than a rebellious Rabbi, we have a learned man who taught others about holiness, and how to become God-minded. What can be wrong with such a thing? He taught people they should love each other regardless of affiliations, nationalities, and regardless of class. Again, what could be wrong with such a teaching? Nothing! There really doesn’t seem to be an argument regarding Jesus’ teachings, other than His discussions of His own personal identity as a manifestation of the God. We’ll get to that though don’t you worry, but for now let us focus on the Man.
We know in order for a person to exist in this world they must be born. Again, no argument there. He was born. Does it really matter that He was born in a manger, or that his parents had some issues regarding how they came together as a couple? No. Not really. In the end, Joseph became Jesus’ father, Mary was His mother, and he became an adult who went from place to place preaching to any who would listen about a new way of life. This leads us to the touchy subject of the Virgin Birth. Does it matter if Jesus was born of a person who herself was born of a virgin? Does it matter if Jesus’ mother was Immaculately conceived? In the greater scheme of things, no, not really. They hold no bearing on whether or not Jesus actually existed. Having said that, there is at least one documented case of a natural half-parthenogenetic birth. In 1995, Nature Genetics reported a child that had some cells (about 50%) that consisted of genetic material only from his mother and some which were normal – consisting of DNA from both parents. Doctors who studied the child theorized that one of the mother’s eggs that had been fertilized by the father fused with an unfertilized egg that was dividing parthogenetically. In the world around us, a-sexual reproduction happens all the time, even with some animals. Just because it doesn’t happen with great regularity doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
For our purposes however, it doesn’t matter how Jesus got here, what matters is Jesus lived. Even if Jesus was never born of the God, because of the omnipotent nature of the God, anything is possible, even Jesus’ divinity. The point still remains that a person named Jesus could very well have walked this earth some 2000 years ago.
Regarding this thing about the divinity of a man who taught greatness in the world, does it really matter at all if the Man known as Jesus was a part of God? Would it really change the message Jesus taught or does it just change the way we perceive Jesus’ message? If you genuinely feel the need to anthropomorphize the concept of God, and if you genuinely feel the need to give the concept of God a family, then yes, your view of Jesus’ teachings may indeed change, but please remember, they are then your own views, and your own perceptions which should not be forced onto those around you who may not feel the same way as you. If however, you believe that all things are created by the concept of the God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect because the God created them, and that because the God created all things that everything comes forth from the God, then Jesus’ divinity is not a question because, as Jesus taught, all things, all people, all life is sacred and divine since they come directly from the God; that means you and me too people (which goes to Jesus’ reference to those around him as His brothers and sisters.)
So, this Jesus person… He lived, which means that at some point he had to die. Does it really matter that he was crucified as a criminal? He was after all a criminal! He taught things contrary to the Jewish and Roman laws. He taught people should love each other and forgive one another rather than holding grudges, and punishing people unjustly. He taught there was a greater rule to life than being led by corrupt political and religious leaders. His teachings were antiestablishmentarianism. In the Sitz im leben, he was a criminal and was put to death for what could be considered at that time as sedition. But does any of that matter?
I personally detest the image of a “Bacon-strips” Jesus. To me, that is not the image of a savior I wish to hold on to, but again, that is my own perception. I find no comfort in a person being utterly humiliated and destroyed, no matter the reason. Others find great comfort in the fact that Jesus died on a cross and because they are so focused on the end of His life, they completely forget about the many teachings He gave us or that He continued well past His alleged death. Though it may have been filled with suffering, His end is no different than ours: we will one day die just as He did, though maybe not on a couple of wooden beams.
So, what does matter in the life of the man known as Jesus? Does it really matter that after He died, that he returned to the Source of all being through what is commonly referred to as the ascension and how is that different than Mary’s assumption? Are we saying Jesus willed Himself to the Source of all being, but His mother wasn’t strong enough so He had to bring her to Himself? But isn’t the idea the same thing? Both rose to a new life in union with the Source. Or are we again focusing on the action, but not the numerous teachings He left behind? Why are we so transfixed on only the major events of His ministry? Why do we continue to put aside the lessons He taught?
And what about those teachings? How many different ways do they have to be expressed, changed, updated, and revitalized, in order for us to get the point? Yes they are in story form and in some cases are actual plagiarized versions of other stories, not to mention the myriads of enigmatic parables and esoteric announcements. But through it all, are there not concepts and teachings for us to take into ourselves, explore, and from which we can ultimately grow to new and better understandings of not only ourselves, but even those around us? Does it truly matter from where the original stories evolve? Do we need to be reminded how many hundreds of stories are “borrowed” from other traditions? The Buddhist traditions, Muslim traditions, Christian traditions, and even modern Pagan traditions have all “borrowed” stories, teachings, and theologies from one another and from traditions which have long since disappeared from the face of the earth. It is nothing new to take from something well known and create something with a slightly different slant.
What matters more than anything else, is how we choose to reflect those stories, teachings, and theologies to the rest of the world around us. What matters more than any of the above discussion is how we integrate and assimilate the teachings we share with one another and how we evolve into something more than we are today. What matters more than anything else is that we grow beyond our narrow perceptions of ourselves, and the world around us, and that we strive to become better than what we are, or who we have become. What matters is that we listen with open hearts to the stories of long ago, and that we remember a Man who had the fortitude to help humanity move beyond the “eye for an eye” mentality towards a more holistic and universal expression of love for all of creation, and that we are a part of that creation.
What matters more than whether or not Jesus was God, is that we remember that all things were created by whatever your definition of the Divine Source of All is, and that because of that much deeper connection, we are all descended from the Divine and can grow into a more perfect union with the Source. It was one of Jesus’ teachings after all, that we are all His brothers and sisters, we are all children of God.
Maybe what is more important is that we start acting like we are brothers and sisters. Maybe what is more important is that we learn from Jesus’ teachings and grow beyond our need for putting others down for what they believe. I am a Christian in that I remember the life of Jesus Christ in its entirety, not just the selective few points of interest. I have chosen as an adult to follow a Man I consider to be Divine and whose teachings are wondrous and attainable. I am not a Christian simply because it’s fashionable, or because it’s what my family decided for me. My belief is not limitation, but is the possibility that I too can be more than the sum of my being. I am a Christian because I believe that through Christ’s teachings, I too can learn and grow.
Maybe what is more important is that we simply grow.
The Rev. Father Kenneth Nelan is the pastor of the Sacred Wandering Pastoral Center in Milwaukee Wisconsin. He is also the celebrant of the Sunday Mass broadcast on Facebook.