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Shaking Things Up


Confirmation class is underway. Last Saturday, the topic was Jesus and we talked about the different images of Jesus that we have. The starting point is the gospels – four of them in the canon. Each gospel presents an image of Jesus. The gospel writers were not writing history, they were telling the story of Jesus in order to evoke faith in their particular community. Therefore, each gospel is tailored to move their community in a specific circumstance. Before Constantine became Emperor of Rome there were many communities with various understandings and image of Jesus. Constantine did not want this diversity; if Christianity was to be the religion of the Empire it had to be uniform and united. Thus the creeds were born. But the creeds say little about Jesus. Though history different images of Jesus have come and gone (See Jaroslav Pelikan’s Jesus Through the Centuries).

I see our task is not to give these youth a single image to believe in, but it ignite in them the question about who Jesus was to these different communities, and what it means to follow him. The first three gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) are similar in structure and content; they are therefore called the “Synoptic Gospels.” The Gospel According to John is entirely different. Particularly in regard to the image of Jesus. In Mark, Jesus is truly struggling in the Garden of Gethsemane – please take this cup, but if it’s your will… In John’s picture of that scene Jesus is in total control, saying that this is all happening as he had planned it. Mark’s Jesus is more human and John’s is more divine. In the Synoptic Gospels there is a sense in which the future remains unknown, that Jesus had a real choice – things were in process. In John’s gospel everything is foreordained. Depending on which of these images one uses following Jesus will be different.

I grew up believing in the plan; I didn’t really think about it much, but it seemed as though that’s what everyone else believed. Historically, in America the Gospel According to John has become dominant, in that the image of Jesus in John is assumed as is the concept of Jesus being divine. My image of Jesus changed by the time I was in college, when I really read and studied the Bible. I was moved by Marcus Borg’s understanding of Jesus as one who shook things up. I also remember reading Paul Tillich’s book, Shaking the Foundations about the prophet’s role of challenging the powers that be. Jesus was one who subverted the conventional wisdom and challenged the powers and because he did that he was crucified as a political agitator.
In our last Adult Sunday School class somehow we got to talking about “shaking things up.” Part of the discussion surrounded the response of people to the proposed American Healthcare Act; the response influenced the decision, some said. I believe that part of following Jesus is being a trouble maker… but being a trouble maker in the name of Jesus. Usually if we go to a rally, or call a legislature or write a letter of talk to people in a way the is prophetic we do not associate that rabblerousing with our faith in Jesus and our conviction to follow him, in life, death and resurrection. Quite honestly, the reason I was against the American Healthcare Act was because it would deny millions of people healthcare and give rich people a tax break. I think that if Jesus witnessed this he would be turning over the tables, so to speak. We need to identify what we do for justice and peace in the world with our faith in Jesus. And we need to share with others, incite conversations about our images of Jesus who directs us to our opinions and convictions about such things as the AHA. I believe we need conversations with those we disagree with. But I believe they need to be about the center of our faith, Jesus Christ. Who is Jesus for us that compels is to act and believe in a certain way. I’m hoping to instill in the confirmands this question – I hope it helps transform the world. P. Jim


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