If you had been a Christian in the year 325 C.E., you would have stumbled a bit when asked by a pagan, “Was your Jesus divine?” Many Christians believed Jesus had been a regular man who had been “adopted” by God the Father; others said no, he had a divine mind but a human body; and still others maintained he was really God all the time but only seemed human. Nobody knew.
The newly converted Emperor Constantine didn’t understand any of this — and he didn’t care. He had nations to conquer and he was going to make them all Christians. He hustled 318 Catholic bishops into the small town of Nicaea and forced them to stay there until they wrote a Christian Creed. “Just give me a Creed!”
I don’t think he understood it; it states that Jesus is homousian with the Father. “Of one substance” is the way we translate the Greek; I have no idea how our Roman Emperor put it to his conquered tribes, but that was his problem. We don’t have that problem today. Or do we? We believe there is one God and three divine persons, and that Jesus, the Galilean carpenter, is one of those persons. But how? Did Jesus think as God but act as a Galilean? Despite what you read in Letters to the Editor, it’s still a mystery. I can’t help but wonder:
▪ Did Jesus know in his human mind, before the resurrection, that he was divine?
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▪ And, if he did, is there any evidence that he told anybody?
As I read Mark’s gospel (written around the year 70.C.E) and then Luke’s, (20 years later) I don’t find Jesus making any statements that sound “divine.” Messianic, yes, but not divine. I can explain his healings and other “miraculous” events in natural terms or even later redactions. And Matthew’s “gospel-ending” of Jesus sending the Apostles to baptize “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost” is a resurrected Jesus not a human Jesus.
However, John’s gospel (110. C.E.) takes my breath away. If I were reading it for the first time, I would not believe it’s the same Jesus I read about in Mark, Matthew and Luke. John introduces Jesus in the first paragraph as the “Creator.” The clincher comes in John 8:58, where Jesus says, “before Abraham was, I AM.”
John tells us that his Jewish listeners picked up stones to throw at him, but he hid himself. They had every right to stone him. If Jesus had actually said this, he would never have lived to Golgotha. He had just called himself “Yahweh” and for Jews that was blasphemy and deserving of the death penalty. You remember how Moses had asked the Burning Bush for a Name: “Tell the Israelites that I AM sent you” came the answer.
John tells us Jesus said, “I AM Yahweh!” John’s gospel raises one of those “Christian Questions” serious readers of the Bible find troubling. Is this an accurate rendition of what historically took place, or is this the faith of the 2nd century Christians? John’s gospel understandably does not quote Jesus on the cross, crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” but Mark and Matthew do. If Jesus could say, “I AM,” how could he also lose God?
Jesus, the Galilean carpenter, was a man just like me. He had all the same doubts and drives and desires. When he was captured and tortured and nailed to a cross he felt totally abandoned and lost, and he couldn’t believe the God he had loved and preached about had vanished.
Maybe his divinity was where ours should be: In helping the elderly and the lame and the sick; in speaking out against injustice and cruelty and being crucified for doing it; and in belonging to a loving community where we recognize God is present in each one of us.
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