Note: I first wrote and published this a few years ago. I occasionally revise and republish it.
Two thousand years ago, a carpenter lived a conventional life for 30 years in a tiny village in the Middle East. Then he somehow became as they might say today, “radicalized.”
Historians agree that Jesus did exist. There are reliable ancient records of him. But most of what we know are opaque and contradictory accounts written decades after his death in what we now call the Gospel of the New Testament.
In one sense, those Gospel accounts are profoundly simple. They say Jesus was the Messiah prophesized in the Hebrew Bible. As such, he performed miracles to save those needing saving. He came back from the dead. That’s the word.
But in a personal sense, the Gospels present a more complicated man than the one presented in Sunday School or even adult church services.
Read the Gospels yourself. In his three years of preaching, Jesus railed against the religious establishment that charged tolls on the road to heaven, as religions often do. And he had no use for the occupying Roman pagans. But he regarded neither as the real enemy.
With compassion he cured the sinners and detritus who were shunned by his ancient society including prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, the crippled and the blind. But he often suggested that their condition was not medical or circumstantial. Rather, it was spiritual — a lack of faith.
He judged people even as he admonished them not to judge others. He came to serve, not to be served, but he instructed those he served to serve his father. He forgave those he judged and took no payment, but demanded something harder than payment: “Sin no more.”
His patience was superhuman, except with his rag-tag band of friends who often exasperated him. He all but muttered, “Geez, I’m surrounded by idiots!”
But he trusted those friends to be the rock upon which he and they might found a world-changing faith. Most of them did not disappoint.
He had a wry sense of humor and was occasionally sarcastic. He taught kindness and forgiveness but had a temper. Enraged that merchants at the temple traded on God, he trashed the place.
He and his friends drank a lot of wine. When they ran out, he made more.
He was tempted and occasionally afraid. He was coy about who and what he was. A reader of the Gospels is left wondering whether he himself wasn’t sure till the end. He seldom called himself the son of God, but often called himself the son of man.
He preached that this world doesn’t matter as much as the kingdom to come. For that, some thought he might be insane.
But he was strong. He went to Jerusalem for his trial and death. There the people betrayed him, as he knew they would, mocked him and scourged him to the bone. He dragged through the streets the crossed timbers of his impending torture and execution as a rebel and blasphemer.
That was his plan all along. In his final hours, he endured agonizing pain inflicted by those he came to save. With his last breath he cried out, “Lord, why have you forsaken me?”
He was fully a man, and more. I’d give anything to have a beer with him.
Humanity’s view of Christ changed in the two millennia after the Gospels. This most masculine of men became feminized. The medieval church seeking to domesticate the masses portrayed him as a pacifist and a weakling — a soother and a smoother — perhaps because that’s what they wanted from their customers.
While plump priests and popes bedecked themselves in jeweled crowns and silk robes, Christ was portrayed as a doleful, skinny, humorless, hippie vegan with long hair parted in the middle, sometimes holding a lamb.
But men in the time of Christ did not have long woman’s hair and did not carry around lambs. Carpenters then and now are not skinny, but sturdy. They don’t cuddle cute pets, their muscular arms wield hammers. They’re not victims, they’re builders.
Christ came to build, and he succeeded like no one before or after.
Christ’s unpredictability and contradictions confuse me, and the church’s creepy stylization of him is even more perplexing. It’s well worth trying to understand him but I still don’t fully and probably never will, at least not in this world. I have a hunch he wants it that way.
But I do know this. He’s not my mom. He’s not there to dry my tears or tell me I’m special or ward off things that go bump in the night. The Lion of Judah fights a fiercer foe.
Thank you Glenn for this submission. Mankind needs to ponder Jesus the Christ and decide if He told the truth prior to their own last heartbeat. His message was not confusing. No one in history had ever made the blind to see, made the deaf to hear, made the paralytics rise and carry their bed, spoke to leprosy and it disappeared, spoke to the wind and the waves and they were calmed, raised people who had died and stunk, fed 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish, predicted his own punishment and death and then like none other in the history of man, rose from the dead. He then empowered 11 men to spread the message that He by His death had paid the penalty for every man’s sin if they would but accept the sacrifice. Here we are 2,000 years later, listening to carols, lighting trees, decorating homes and gathering families homeward for the celebration. Glenn, the Gospels are clear. Jesus said,”I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” Gospel of John Chapter 14 verse 6. He would be a charlatan or kook if His resurrection and the miracles mentioned above didn’t prove He was indeed the Son of God.
That is worthy of estimation as by a Doctor of The Church! I do not exaggerate. Correlating Infinity with finitude, the great paradox of life and existence generally. A great accomplishment.
1- ” A reader of the Gospels is left wondering whether he himself wasn’t sure till the end.” A keen, brilliant insight, and accurate. Just before the end, actually. First he was self-aware as a Messenger of God (Prophet, Son of Man). Then he was self-aware as the Son of God (Christ). Finally he was self-aware as One with God (Who sees me sees the Father, “sees” being internal, direct experience). The Gospel texts record this evolution of self-awareness. They do not record his locations or ages when these evolutions transpired, except in re the first one: at the synagogue in Nazareth, at the start of his ministry, when he was already around age thirty. His 18 years between his age 12 and age 30 are not addressed in the New Testament, and I’ll leave it at that.
The second two moments of his self-awareness could have occurred during his brief ministry in Judea and Samaria or during that 18-year hiatus in the NT narrative (kerygma), which, BTW, is soteriological, not historiographical.
His role and mission were present from the start (Conception), but his realizing them emerged over time through experience and in stages moving from separation (Prophet) to conditioned identity (Son) to complete identity with God (One). This staging of self-awareness is a very human phenomenon any one of us can attest occurring in our own lives, although few of us realize (direct experience) that our true identity is as one with the Father, although it is.
2- He was poor worldly-wise all his life, but he was high-born socially, House of King David, its then-senior claimant in fact, which explains his familiarity and easy concourse with residents of Bethany, First Century Jerusalem’s Pacific Heights (San Francisco), Upper East Side (Manhattan), Bel Air/ Brentwood (Los Angeles), Hamptons, (Long Island), Aspen (Colorado) ( 🙂 ), etc.
Finally, The Lion of Judah, as pictured, is redolent of high-minded character. Augustine famously declared (paraphrasing), Truth is a Lion. Let it loose. It can take care of itself.
Great essay! Merry Christmas.
May I recommend an author for you and your followers…Lee Strobel.
The gospels were written between 65-95 AD.
Pasting this from your article,
A reader of the Gospels is left wondering whether he himself wasn’t sure till the end.
I’d recommend reading the gospel of John regarding Jesus’ claim to be God in human flesh.
John 8:58 and John 10:30-33. There’s no question Jesus knew who he was at 12 yrs. old, and the mission he would accomplish at Calvary.
In the spirit of the Christmas season….in 700 BC the ancient prophet Isaiah prophesied and proclaimed, “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Also in Isaiah 7:14, Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign; the virgin will conceive, and give birth to a Son, and will call him Emmanuel….which literally means, “God with us.”
God’s blessing this Holy Season, and keep writing, yours is a special voice of reason in this upside-down world.
You are absolutely correct! But the ‘writer glen’ spouts blasphemy @ its heights? He absolutely has no idea whom Jesus Christ is. And I rather believe he has no inclination to the contrary.
I like that you mention Jesus’s use of humor. We need a book, “The Search for the Hysterical Jesus,” a disquisition on how he used humor and what his humor meant. A friend of mind, now deceased once suggested that when he said to Peter, “Upon this rock I found my church” he cracking a pun.
I think of the story or the stoning of the accused adultress, when he ran up and said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Maybe he was mocking the people, Maybe they knew that he was the one who was without sin. Maybe they got the joke and cooled out. Just like today, it’s all in the timing and tone.
Then there’s Mary, Mother of God. If we need a mother, she’s the one. But maybe she not exactly who we think she is. No one stays 14 years old forever. She went on to become the mother of the four brothers of Jesus and, the Bible helpfully points out, “and sisters.” I take “sisters” to mean, at least three. That’s a lot of peanut butter and jelly and a lot of macaroni and cheese. And a lot of fixing of boo-boos.
Did I see Mary? What I mean is, did I see what she looked like? Let me explain. My denomination is one which allows and promotes freedom of thought. We were discussing Mary on one occasion and one of the clergy member’s doctoral thesis on Marian heuristics. Well, I was somewhere a couple of days later, probably at home, when I had one of these visualization people have, they call it hypnagogic vision, and i saw a small dark woman with medium length hair wearing a black shift dress. But she was not a type unknown to us. You might see and meet someone like that in an evangelical church or even in the supermarket – a woman with a brood of kids, very spiritual, but very energetic and very practical too, and not at all afraid of people.
Was that what Mother Mary actually looked like? I don’t know. I can’t say that. But I’ll bet my last doilar my picture is a lot closer than what most people think. Jesus had to live the life of a man, true. Don’t forget, Mary had to live the life of woman, an adult and a parent too. Even the Bible tells us so.
Good job, Glenn.
The Epistles, written by John, Paul and Peter (not sure about Hebrews) spend their time trying to explain who Jesus is/was and how we are supposed to act as Christians. You are correct, Glenn, he was complex, but obedience to God is simple: follow the rules laid forth in the Bible (not those of man, 2000 years later) and you will spend eternity in Heaven. It is impossible for us to comprehend what HE did for us when he was crucified and I still don’t understand why GOD required his life, but I love studying HIS word and learning about HIM. I am still amazed, that after 2000 years, there are things we still don’t understand.
Merry Christmas, Everyone.
One of the better books about the Battle of Gettysburg is entitled “The Killer Angels.” That’s a phrase worth thinking about.
As you say, Jesus is lost on those who see only a gentle hippie victimized by a ruthless establishment, and not a militant aggressor, warrior and master strategist. Theologically, he was (IS) a killer as well as a redeemer, suggesting that one can’t be the latter without also being the former. Such is the nature of war.
And so, Glenn, are you — a warrior with a keyboard, cleaving falsehood with the spirit of truth. Understandably, you often feel waist deep in “politicrap,” with a need to flee the madding crowd and hop on a boat into the Sea of Galilee.
But Heaven forfend that you should quit. Merry Christmas, with thanks for all you do..
Chad, of course, not “Had” — sometimes the bitter one.
Really good essay. Addresses an issue that drives me crazy: the feminizing of the church. Uggh.
The feminization of the faith, and therefore churches, are following the feminization of society.
The churches are simply following the best business model to maintain membership and therefore contributions.
Most churches in the western world are majority female membership now.
There is little room, except in small pockets for
exhibition of any manly traits.
Many women today seem to prefer a Stepford Husband, and many men seem willing to play that role. No thanks!
Some business model! The more churches pander to Modernist fashions, the more their membership and contributions shrink. Now that Pope Francis has declared war on traditional rites and on so much of the Deposit of Faith, the exodus will be swift and transformative — all that will remain of the Catholic Church will be New World Order “Coexist” ecumenists and syncretists, LGBTQ+ people, gender equity folks, and all the same kinds of libs that laid waste to the Anglican Church over the past half-century. It will neither save the Earth nor save souls.
Glenn: I’ve read your writing for a few years, but somehow I’ve missed this stirring piece. I hope you’ve come across “The Chosen,” a beautiful series depicting Jesus’ time on earth. The 3rd season is in production. Some fictionalized content to flesh-out the apostles and other characters, but an attempt to present a realistic story of what it was like in the 1st century. I have no affiliation with the production, just a fan. Merry Christmas. http://the chosen.tv
During the time of Jesus, the Hebrew language did not have a word for “cousin”. Hence cousins were referred to as brothers and sisters. Jesus had no biological brothers and sisters. He did have cousins, but in the Bible, they are referred to as “brothers and sisters”.
I believe in a way you are right, The Bible tells us this that Jesus Father was God, tho Jesus was God. He too was 100% man, 100% God, period. Jesus siblings were His half brothers and sisters, on His mother’s side. Note I don’t capitalize ‘mother’! Mary is not diety, never was, nor will be period.
Respectfully, you are both correct and in error. Hebrew clearly had and has different words for “brother” and “cousin.” There is no support for your theory about this. However, it is true that the word for “brother” can be more expansive than merely biological siblings. It all depends on context. In the context provided by the authors of the NT, there is no reason to think they meant anything other than the biological offspring of Joseph and Mary. Since Mary is the biological mother of Jesus, her other offspring would be technically His half-brothers and half-sisters, inasmuch as Mary was “overshadowed” by God whose Seed Jesus is. It was a late second-century fabrication that Mary remained a perpetual virgin. It was not until the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD that the RC Church formally adopted the Perpetual Virginity of Mary as dogma.
Wonderful column. Thank you Glenn.
45 years ago, I stood in line to receive the Eucharist and pondered the host the priest held and the chalice in the hands of the alter boy. Transubstantiation indicated I was about to consume the body and blood of Christ. I was reminded of the Christians at my college who had encouraged me to pray for Christ to indwell me. Which, at the time I had rejected not wanting to give up control of my life, but now, months later, and hundreds of miles from home, I faced a challenge. Failure was a reality and would affect me deeply. Now I needed and wanted help. I said as much to myself. A voice spoke softly, as if standing behind me, “Come and be satisfied’.
I accepted His invitation, and life has been an adventure ever since.
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