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This is going to be a fun week of preparation for our conversation at the Table on Sunday.
First, we’ll be talking about Jesus as prophet, one of the central understandings of who Jesus was. Some theologians and scholars describe Jesus purely as a prophet – his mission was to call his people into a new way of living. Everything else that he does – teaching, healing, praying, leading – simply serve the purpose that he was pointing to and living into a different kind of society.
A society where the first shall be last and the last shall be first…
I believe it’s central for us to understand Jesus this way. Jesus did not come to make anyone feel comfortable. Yes, his ministry was awash with radical actions of love and compassion for the least of those in his society, but he also said no to many would-be disciples who weren’t willing to be transformed.
In the book Missional Spirituality, the authors, Roger Helland and Leonard Hjalmarson, make the point that one of the key things Jesus did was challenge his people to leave a temple spirituality, a religious institution about a location where spiritual goods and services where shared and exchanged, to a lived spirituality, where the body becomes the temple and the world becomes the place to discover God’s movement. No doubt, this prophetic stance was one of the reasons Jesus’ words and deeds were seen as a threat to the powers that be. His culture was established around the regular patterns of temple life – to leave it behind was blasphemous.
And yet today, I think the same problems can often exist in the Christian church – we cling to our temples and expectations that people must come and find God here, when God is already out there among the poor, the broken, the sick, and the forgotten. Jesus’ prophetic words will still ring true and challenge us to leave our temples and go where God is moving.
The second reason to look forward to this Sunday is that we will be welcoming Rev. Dr. Irie Session, one of our area ministers and the pastor of a community of people on the edge of our society. Her ministry has helped women get off the streets and leave lives of prostitution. She regularly sees and confronts the realities of human trafficking in our society. Her experience and theological wisdom will be a gift as we look at Jesus through this important lens.
What questions will you bring this Sunday? The Table welcomes them as we all look to follow after one who came that we might be challenged to live in a way of reconciliation, peace, and compassion. We might even sing a Bob Marley tune too (“how long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look?“).
Who was Jesus anyway?
It’s a question Christians ask, intentionally or unintentionally, every time we open up the Bible and look at the texts that we call our scriptures. There are a wide variety of stories about Jesus in the Gospels, and they are our primary place to wonder and seek insight. Different theologians, such as Marcus Borg, have attempted to apply a kind of historical criticism, asking about the context and possible authors… or even how the gospels were compiled together. Others look at the gospels through specific lens, for instance, exploring the roles of women, the place of the poor and people on the fringe, or even Jesus in relation to the Roman empire. Still a bunch of Christians look at it spiritually, inviting God to speak through the text as they pray and ponder a particular passage many times in one sitting. All of these methods, each with its strength and weakness, are an attempt to answer the who and what questions about the one we call Savior – who was he, and what was he about?
Marcus Borg, who wrote the great book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, has attempted to answer this question by listing a few sort of broad roles that would have been familiar to the contemporaries and culture of Jesus’ day. One of those is the role of a mystic. A mystic is quickly defined as a spirit person, someone who experiences deep oneness with God or the divine. Wherever Jesus went, he was open and in tune with the moving spirit of God. He saw possibilities where others saw reality. He seemed to hear God speaking to him and directing his actions.
The image above is a depiction of Jesus as a guru from the Hindu faith, a physical embodiment of the divine. While the Hindus respect Jesus, they don’t put him in the same place as the church does, as the sole Son of God. Still, I like the image because it reminds us of Jesus’ Otherness. One who is deeply connected to God does not usually play by the same rules that the rest of us do. I don’t mean like laws of nature, though Jesus certainly did some crazy physics-bending actions (like walking on water, etc.). Think of how Jesus is repeatedly going off to pray, alone and in silence, or how he senses when his spiritual energy leaves him by a touch from a stranger. Sometimes, Jesus does more by saying nothing at all, like when he scribbles on the ground while a crowd waits for the go ahead to stone and adulterer. Or when he leads his disciples into the mountains to a “thin place” where life beyond and this world seem to merge.
Jesus’ mystical quality put him in touch with a different rhythm and set of values than the world around him. This could be infuriating, but it’s also immensely attractive. Why else do so many people go camping or hiking each year but to get away from our normal rhythms of our lives? Why do we seek out spiritual retreats but to retune ourselves into the presence of God at the center of all things? And if Jesus had not had this deep sense of oneness with God, would his ministry have been possible?
Jesus famously said in Matthew 12:50 – “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
How else do we hear someone’s will but by listening, paying attention, and communing with them? How then will you use this Lent as a time to restoke that deep sense of attentiveness to God’s call within you? Is Jesus calling each of us to be a mystic of our own?
We’ll be discussing these questions and more this Sunday at the Table as we explore further Jesus as a mystic.