Who is Jesus?
Let’s begin this blog a bit differently than usual. I’d like you to take a moment to think about this question: Who is Jesus for you? When you think about him, what roles does he play in your life? Savior? Friend? Teacher? Something else?
Richard Rohr writes, “Your image of God creates you.” In other words, our personal theology is formed by the way in which we see God. If we see God primarily as the judge who determines our eternal fate—heaven or hell—the way in which we live will reflect that image; we will be focused on not “breaking the rules” (a form of legalism). On the other hand, if we see God chiefly as a loving Father, our focus will be on living into the two Great Commandments Jesus taught (to love God and neighbor).
Perhaps this feels like splitting hairs. One could argue that if—as Jesus also taught—we love God with all our hearts, our souls, and our minds, we will naturally be led to avoid sin. And of course, the way we live into our faith does not have to be viewed as an “either-or” situation. It can be “yes-and”. God may be all of that and more for each one of us!
For me, it comes down to a matter of focus; the role that I see God playing in my life will determine where my focus will be. Which brings us back to the questions I posed above.
How do you see Jesus? Who is he for you?
This is also the question posed by Diana Butler Bass, in her book, Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way and Presence. Much like Rohr, Bass believes that the ways in which we are taught to see Jesus can define—and often limit—our experiences and our relationships with him. Jesus, she says, is more than the man who gave his life for us on the cross.
She examines the many roles Jesus has played throughout her life—from her simple, felt sense of his presence as a friend when she was a child, to her growing personal relationship with him as an adult.
Bass writes that many churchgoers today struggle with traditional dogma about who Jesus was and is. Historical man? Spiritual Savior? Both? She responds that he is indeed both, and more, and that his role in our lives changes according to our needs and experiences.
She points to the example of Paul’s experience on the road to Emmaus, when he asks Jesus, “Who are you?”. In this life-changing moment, Paul becomes a believer—certainly not because of the dogma of his place and time! But because of this personal experience, the beginning of his relationship with Jesus, that gave birth to and shaped his belief.
Bass further writes that Paul would go on to identify many of Jesus’s roles. In his letters, she says, “Paul introduces many Jesuses: gift-giving Savior, egalitarian radical, Wisdom of God, Merciful One, Light of the World, Joy of All Hearts, mystical insight, deliverer from sin and guilt, cosmic vision.”
Whew! That’s a whole lot of hats for one man to wear!
But, thanks be, Jesus was not just a man. He is God-with-us, a part of the Trinity …Creator God, Redeemer Son, Sustainer Spirit. And it is out of this holy, communal relationship that he is empowered to be what each of us most needs in order to come to, grow, and sustain belief.
If you find this topic interesting, I invite you to join a small group in discussing Bass’s book, which is both thoughtful and reader-friendly. This will be an informal group with no facilitator and no agenda! It’s open to anyone, whether you’ve read all or simply part of the book. We will meet in the pavilion on June 23 at 11:00 a.m. (or inside the church if the weather doesn’t cooperate). If possible, please bring a lawnchair to the discussion.
If you would like to join us, please contact me, Nancy Becker or Linda Long. Let’s talk about who Jesus is—and who he has been—in each of our lives.
Lou Ann Karbel