Several months ago, when I indicated that I was planning on devoting the April issue of Aquarius to exploring the person and meaning of Jesus…well, to say I got some strange looks is an understatement.
Some were like, “what??” Some were like, “WTF?” Some expressed strong discomfort with the subject, and others expressed strong concern. Some were afraid that a project like this could go really, really wrong. Others were afraid that we could upset and even offend some of our readers.
But…I had to do it. I understood the concerns. I shared some of them. But I believe in YOU, the reader. And I also believe in our WRITERS. I felt like this could be an incredible issue of Aquarius…and by what I have seen so far…it is.
Let’s face it…we cannot get around the person of Jesus. Not if we live in Western Culture. Even globally, Jesus is considered a major historic feature. No amount of denial, persecution, or mockery has succeeded in eliminating him from collective human memory. Regardless of how you feel or think of him…he is there, in nearly every iteration of our society.
Pay attention and you will see that Jesus permeates every part of our cultural zeitgeist. He is a curse word, a Superstar, a revered Lord, a loving Savior, a prophet (one of many), an Enlightened Master, even a myth. But…he won’t go away.
And here is the fact: today, controversy about who Jesus was and who Jesus is, and the meaning of his life and message, is as hot and intense as it has ever been. Terrorism and the advent of violent religious extremism have given rise to scrutiny of religious memes and deeper religious meanings. You cannot go far into that territory without encountering Jesus.
Followers of Jesus today are at the center of the hottest and fiercest “culture wars” our nation has ever seen. “Conservative Christians” represent a right-of-center value system that believes in traditional marriage, the right to life of unborn children, conservative racial values (even limited segregation), the use of military action, the unquestioning support of political authority, and limited government. “Liberal Christians” represent a left-of-center value system that believes in marriage equality, women’s equality and sovereignty over their own bodies, racial equality and integration at every level, limited use of military action, challenging political authority, and a stronger role for government. “Progressive Christians” represent the flat-out “non-American” values (as some conservative pundits would call it) of embracing socialistic economic models and radical ideas about community, relationships, and the role of religion.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, the issue remains: Really?? How did the person of Jesus get so entangled in all of this? Who could have ever guessed that how one thinks about Jesus influences what one thinks about taxes? Or war? Or women’s rights and equal pay?
It all comes down to this: the Bible tells us that one day, Jesus was talking with his disciples and friends, and asked them, “What are people saying about me?” The disciples shrugged their shoulders, kicked around in the dirt, and would not look directly at Jesus as they answered. It was an uncomfortable moment for them, I am sure. “Some say you are a prophet,” they told him. “Some say you are the reincarnation of Elijah.” After a moment of awkward silence, Jesus asked them, “What about you? Who do you say that I AM?”
And that is the question: Who do you say that Jesus is? It is an important question…maybe more important than you have ever considered. So…let’s consider it. Who is he?
WAS HE…OR NOT?
Was Jesus even a real person? There is a whole group of scholars and thinkers who propose that Jesus never really existed, or if he did, he bore no resemblance to the picture we have of him from the New Testament.
Instead, they propose that the Jesus we see in the Bible and that is worshipped in churches around the world is primarily a mythical character. D.M. Murdock, one of the world’s leading mythicists, says that he is a compilation character, made out of many religious characters from the ancient Middle Eastern and Roman belief systems. She notes his similarity to Horus (an Egyptian god), Dionysus (a Grecian god), and Mithras (a local Palestinian deity). You can read more about the mythicist position in the article by Aaron Michael Dove in this issue.
Others - and these are in the majority - believe that Jesus “probably” existed, but that many stories came to be told about him and it is impossible to distinguish what is true of his life and what is not. Apart from the Bible, there is absolutely no independent secular evidence that he existed. The simple fact is that the Bible is the ONLY source we have about his life and teaching. But those who believe he existed argue that no character could be a fabrication and yet have so much lasting influence on civilization.
Of course, there are those who believe that Jesus was exactly who the Bible says he is. He was the Son of God, the Savior of the world through his death on the cross, and the Lord of All through his resurrection from the dead.
There are also those who believe he was an enlightened man who taught radical truths about human consciousness and how to live in radical love and forgiveness. His teachings, not the details of his life or even his death, are what are most important.
Finally, there are those who simply do not care. Whether Jesus lived or not, whether his message was important, whether he was a myth or a Savior…it does not matter. What matters is what we are doing here and now to live ethically, morally, and with love.
What about you? Who do you think Jesus was…and is?
There are a whole bunch of people who believe that the only thing that matters about Jesus is this: before he became a man, he was God. God became a man to teach humans how to live. Then, this God-man died by crucifixion (because that was how people were executed when this God-man lived as a man) because he challenged the political and belief systems of the day. Then, this god-man proved that he was truly God by rising from the dead after three days. He later went to heaven, with a promise to return.
Those who believe all of this are given the gift of eternal life and will go to heaven when they die. Those who don’t…well, they are on the highway to hell, and they are the ones who are causing all the problems on the planet today.
But there are others who believe that the meaning of Jesus’s life is far different from that. They don’t really care how he died - everybody dies. They don’t necessarily believe that he rose from the dead. What matters is what he taught.
So the question becomes…what did he teach?
I spoke recently with John Dominic Crossan, arguably the leading scholar in the world about the historic Jesus and the history of the church. I asked him, “Who was Jesus? Who is Jesus? And why does he matter?”
His answers were very eye opening. He believes that Jesus existed, though he agrees with those who say that we can know very little about his life. He believes that the teachings of Jesus are what matter…and he believes those teachings are very important for today’s world. He summarizes the teachings of Jesus into four basic themes:
God Is, God is love, and God desires love to rule in all human affairs.
Every human being is sacred and valuable because God - the divine - is within every human.
Forgiveness is key to experiencing love.
Violence will never bring about justice or right-ness in human experience.
FERGUSON, ISIS AND JESUS
I asked Dr. Crossan why the message of Jesus is important today. His response was mind-blowing: “Think of Ferguson, and think of ISIS. What links them together? What is the common thread between them? VIOLENCE. Escalatory violence is the drug of choice of the human species. And it will eventually destroy us. Jesus was like a distant early warning system for the human race…indicating that violence will never, ever bring into manifestation the Desire of God for love, justice, and abundance for all.”
How do we break the cycle of violence and live the message of Jesus? His answer was simple: recognize the sacred value of every human being. Practice forgiveness…of self and others. Love. Always.
JESUS - THE MIRROR?
For years, I identified as a Christian. I don’t any more…for a lot of reasons. However…though my religion changed, my ideas about Jesus did not (well, not much). I no longer struggle with trying to figure out if Jesus existed or who he might have been. Today, I embrace his message of radical love, radical forgiveness, and honoring the sacred value of every person. Fretting over who Jesus was has become meaningless to me. Instead, I think of Jesus like a mirror. What I see when I look at Jesus is…me. What I think about Jesus says more about me than it says about Jesus. Jesus is who and what he was…and is. It is what I think about him, and how that thinking effects my living, is what really matters. So, Jesus becomes the ultimate mirror of my life.
And that brings us full circle. It is all about this question: “who do you say that…I AM?”
Don Martin is the owner of Aquarius Newspaper and CEO of Aquarius Media Network. He is a native of Atlanta and has traveled extensively in this world and many others. He is a family man, an outdoorsman, a poet, a musician, a mystic, a writer, a photographer, and a metaphysical practitioner (Akashic Field Therapy). All he wants is love, a farm, and a few chickens and goats.