The Christ of My Faith

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Above:  Jesus, from The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

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Or, the Christ of Faith and His Relationship to the Christ of My Faith

A hackneyed issue in historical Jesus scholarship is the Jesus of history vs. the Christ of faith.  I know this, for I have belonged to a historical Jesus reading group for years.  I have learned much and rejected some old assumptions–or, as I have come to think of them, misconceptions.  As a matter of history, I have become convinced, the Christ of faith is the historical figure of Jesus.  Objective reality is what it is.  The operative question is one of perception.

Certain statements seem self-evident to me.  These include:

  1. Jesus of Nazareth was a human being.
  2. He was also fully divine.
  3. He was a healer.
  4. He was a sage.
  5. He challenged religious and political authorities in a context in which the religious and the political were not only intertwined but often identical.
  6. Some of those authority figures had him crucified.
  7. God resurrected Jesus from the dead on the third day.
  8. One day Jesus left this planet.
  9. Jesus was Jewish.

Points #5 and 9 have made some people uncomfortable.  Other people have been oblivious to them.  For a long time, some ecclesiastical figures downplayed the Jewishness of Jesus, for example.  My great-grandfather, a Methodist minister, preached in the early 1900s that Jesus grew up in a Christian home.  (I have the notes for that sermon.)  Furthermore, based on the hostility of certain ecclesiastical authorities and Francisco Franco, the fascist dictator of Spain, to scenes of Jesus engaged in verbal conflict with authority figures in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), many clerics and some lay people had been oblivious to the frequency of our Lord and Savior’s arguing in the canonical Gospels.

I have learned that point #1 has also proven troublesome for many people.  There have long been advocates of the Christ Myth point of view, which has no credibility.  The full humanity of Jesus has proven disturbing for many professing Christians.  For example, my father, a United Methodist minister, preached one morning in 1990 that Jesus had a sense of humor.  One of his parishioners found this disturbing and complained to the district superintendent, who, I am sure, had better things to do than fend off a complaint from a de facto Monophysite.  Cinematic versions of Jesus have long been inaccurate, lacking such characteristics as tear ducts and a personality.  The Christ of Ben-Hur (1959) had a shoulder, an arm, a wonderful speaking voice, and a firm grasp of Elizabethan English, but not much else.  Nordic Jesuses with blue eyes were staples of color movies for a while.  Jesus was Semitic, not northern European.  At least the Jesus of the Pasolini film cried after he learned about the death of his cousin, St. John the Baptist.

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Above:  Jesus, from The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

If, as I affirm, the Jesus of history is the Christ of faith, the operative question is, “How do I understand Jesus Christ?”  In other words, “Who is the Christ of my faith, and how closely does he resemble the Christ of objective reality?”  The question is about us, not him.

I speak and write only for myself, for I can do no more than that.

The Christ of my faith was a challenging, crucifiable figure.  He angered enough powerful people sufficiently that they wanted him dead.  He associated with both the powerful and the marginalized, violating social norms and creating scandals.  He comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable.  He was not a man of the establishment.  No, his Beatitudes (Matthew 5) and Beatitudes and Woes (Luke 6) contradicted prevailing political and societal norms.

The Christ of my faith challenges me.  He challenges me to welcome the marginalized and not to become enamored with the establishment.  He challenges me to love my neighbors and to be a neighbor to them.  He challenges me to love my enemies and to bless those who have harmed me.  He challenges me to pray for–not about–people.  He challenges me to take up my cross and follow him.  He challenges me to become a trouble-maker when that is the morally proper course of action.

The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., writing from the Birmingham City Jail, Birmingham, Alabama, in April 1963, replied to some moderate White clergyman who had criticized his tactics and argued that he and his fellow civil rights activists were moving too quickly for social change.  King had no patience for this:

So here we are moving toward the exit of the twentieth century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice.

–Quoted in James Melvin Washington, editor, A Testament of Hope:  The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1986), page 299

King’s point remains germane with regard to a range of social issues in 2016.  It is not a call to reflexive contrarianism.  No, it is a call to act upon timeless moral principles and to label violations of them as being such.

The Christ of my faith is alive, not dead.  In his life, death, and life again people have the opportunity for salvation.  The Christ of my faith is the Savior, not a martyr.  One may admire a martyr and incur no moral obligations, but the Savior beckons and says, “Follow me.”  His grace, although always free, is never cheap.

The Christ of my faith challenges me to confront my negative attitudes toward people, especially those who differ from me greatly and with whom I disagree strongly.  Although the human population includes evil people, most of the people who differ from me and with whom I disagree strongly are far from being evil.  And, although the human population includes stupid (as opposed to ignorant) people, most of the people who differ from me and with whom I disagree strongly are hardly stupid.  I refrain from engaging in such name calling and take offense when others, regardless of whether I generally agree or disagree with them, engage in that practice.  One ought to speak and write carefully.  To call a spade a spade, to quote an old saying, is not to engage in name calling, and one need not engage in the act of spade-calling obnoxiously.  The Christ of my faith challenges me to call a spade a spade without falling into obnoxiousness.  (I find that not shouting helps.  How often have shouting matches solved any problem?)  He reminds me that all of us in the human race are subject to errors and have moral blind spots, many of which we learn from others as they socialize us.  The Christ of my faith challenges me to recognize the opposite of the Golden Rule, regardless of who is violating this commandment.  Toward this end the Christ of my faith challenges me to reject all -isms and -phobias that lead to violating the Golden Rule.  He challenges me to embrace love and to reject the variety of fear that harms others in the same of protecting oneself.

The Christ of my faith challenges me to take up my cross and follow him.  He challenges me to get up when I stumble and is present with me during good times and difficult times.  He seems more present to me during difficult times, perhaps in the way that a light bulb emitting light in a room during both daytime and nighttime seems brighter at night.  The Christ of my faith offers me both comfort and challenges.  He is merciful, but he rejects all excuses for not taking up the challenges.

I do not presume to think vainly that I have mastered these challenges.  No, I am like the rest of the human race.  I am subject to sins of commission and of omission.  I am just as susceptible to the temptation to imagine God in my own image as other people are to imagine the deity their own images.  Yet grace abounds; this I affirm.  And via this grace–always free yet never cheap–there is hope for us all.  That hope comes packaged with the challenge to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus.  Neither Jesus nor the walk of Christian faith is safe.  The walk of Christian faith is neither comfortable nor cozy, but it is the pilgrimage that leads to fullness of life in Christ.

The Christ of my faith, I am sure, bears some resemblance to the objective Christ of faith.  I pray that, as I continue in my spiritual pilgrimage, the Christ of my faith may more closely resemble the objective Christ of faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 24, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ANNA E. B. ALEXANDER, EPISCOPAL DEACONESS

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Posted September 24, 2016 by neatnik2009

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