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Throwing in some last minute thoughts about Christmas before tree burning commences.

With the incarnation, God is presented as man, a man. That is part of the humiliation of Christ’s life. In other words, the cross begins at Christmas, when the second person of the Trinity is presented into a world of gravity and cold sores, where every passing day brings him closer to his public execution.

Briefly, I want to connect all of this to the trending White Jesus debate. The basics are, 2000 years of history have resulted in the predominate depiction of Jesus as a white man, though a quick look at a map will show that Bethlehem is in Palestine, i.e. not white.

What I keep thinking is, Jesus himself would not be surprised to learn that he was not a white man. Nevertheless, he presides over the world portraying him as such (as well as in myriad other bizarro ways) for two millennia. As ruler of the universe, this Prince of Peace seems wildly irresponsible. Yet on further review, this isn’t so out of character. As a friendly reminder, the man got himself killed. Just reckless!

The incarnation means that not only would God die but also that he would be historically contained, misinterpreted — we would make him in our own image. And while surely an all-powerful and omniscient God could imbue every human mind with a perfect understanding of His nature, for some reason God refrains. For some reason, the truth is offered to us in words over which we will labor for ages and also in four different textual accounts which differ to varying degrees.

Thus Historical Jesus remains unclear. The Bible gives no physical descriptions — maybe he was fat, or skinny, maybe he was super cut or gangly. We can guess at how fashionable his clothes were, but that is all. Ultimately all we have is the text and some speculation and an elusive source called Q. As a believer, I’m left to think this is intentional.

The preface to Schweitzer’s seminal Quest for the Historical Jesus (1910) includes a funny objection to the search for a historically accurate Jesus of Nazareth: “The paradox [is] that the greatest attempts to write a Life of Jesus have been written with hate…[by] men who agree only in their unflinching desire to attain historical truth…” This “unflinching desire” he also calls “ruthlessness.” As in many of the articles appearing online today, the quest for the Historical Jesus looks more like a quest for self-righteousness (“I am right!”) disguised as an earnest search for truth.

I don’t intend to wave off the white supremacy issue: it is very bad to insist Jesus was a white man, stupidity being the number one offense IMHO. The implications are grave. But also, if an old Catholic falls on her knees at the feet of White Jesus, is it appropriate to lord her stupidity over her? If White Jesus tells her she is loved, the image of course is false, but the message is true.

Part of Christ’s death is also the death of his image. We contain him in misunderstanding. We misinterpret him to fit our needs. He says, I’ll allow it. He can be black, white, feminist, funky, or just plain sexy. He can be CS Lewis’s golden lion, or Ewan McGregor’s thoughtful Yeshua, or John Milton’s doleful Son. In Paradise Lost, Milton writes Satan an interesting script and gives the Son a lackluster one, which represents his character well: the Son is mis-construed, physically, ideologically, so mankind might be freed. He says:

Behold me then, me for him [mankind], life for life
I offer, on me let thine anger fall;
Account me man; I for his sake will leave
Thy bosom [the Father’s], and this glorie next to thee
Freely put off, and for him lastly dye
Well pleas’d, on me let Death wreck all his rage. (3.236-241)

The Pauline Jesus is not only killed by and for the sins of the world, but he “becomes” sin. And how insulting–especially to us, who claim to put stock in this loser. Why would God allow himself to be perverted by the limits of personhood? Because, I’d wager, he wants to be with us “everywhere.” He weakens to the point of death, that he might be with us in our good and bad, in our hate and anger, in our injustice and sin.

I hope to learn more about the real Jesus, who he was and is. Maybe one day we will understand fully. I hope to meet him face to face, brush his skin and see it for myself. But for now, I hope to realize more and more my failure to understand, and to hold onto his grace and compassion all the more.