Christian writers, intellectuals, theologians, and others are right about this one thing: the world remains fascinated by the story of Jesus of Nazareth more than 2,000 years after his death. Thousands of writers, tons of ink, and mountains of paper have been expended trying to understand this unique Rabbi from Galilee who taught a belief system of tolerance and love in a world that was brutal and desperate.
For example, Bruce Barton in The Man Nobody Knows (1925) interpreted Jesus as the builder of the greatest sales force ever, inspiring his disciples to change the world through his message of love. Andrew Lloyd Webber fashioned him as a “Superstar.” Nikos Kazantzakis in The Last Temptation (1960) viewed him as essentially a man who slowly came to an understanding of his own divinity. Others have interpreted him as the fully realized Son of God who offered a blood sacrifice for the sake of humanity.
At sum, the life of Jesus as reported in the canonized Gospels, not to mention those uncanonized, has been a mirror upon which we might interpret His message dependent upon time and place, perspective and priority. Every generation since his departure has asked, “Who was He? What does His life mean?” For every generation, the permutations have the answer have been complex.
I am most disappointed, and not a little frustrated, when the complexity of the message of Jesus is lost in a thinly veiled, simplistic, and arrogantly argued millennialistic perspective on the world. I seem to be seeing this more and more often. So often these perspectives ignore more than a century of sophisticated higher criticism, remarkable scholarship on the meaning and message of Jesus and his life, and only channel simplistic apocalyptic ideas. When hurricanes and tornadoes, tsunamis and earthquakes are equated with an unleashing of God’s wrath on humanity and a sign of the “end times” I roll my eyes. Usually I bite my tongue but not always.
Clearly, such judgments have little to do with Jesus Christ and his message. Perhaps a way to think about Jesus is to ask which you value more: the life and teaching of Jesus or the death and resurrection of Christ? There is a lot of richness in considering that dichotomy, and there is ample room for righteous people to emphasize either perspective.
I wish I saw more of that richness in any discussion of the events of the world.