Thinking About Jesus

Reading an editorial in the Christian Century magazine, I ran across the statement that Jesus “was with God and was God in the beginning.”

I think this is a misstatement that confuses our understanding of Jesus and makes God more distant instead of bringing God closer. Here’s why.

Jesus was a person. He was born, grew up, worked as a carpenter, went to the river to be baptized by his cousin when he was about 30 years old, was tested in the wilderness, engaged in public ministry and taught a group of disciples for about 3 years, was arrested, killed and raised to new life.

We also believe about Jesus that in him God was incarnate. God was present in him in a way we can never fully understand. Our creeds say about him that he was fully God and fully human. He brought God close. He shows us God’s face. He is the most complete revelation of God we have, as we look at his manner of life, his teaching, his self-giving, his authority over evil powers, his love and sacrifice.

The Gospel of John tells us that “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” It is the eternal Word that was with God in the beginning, not Jesus. It’s important to make a distinction between the eternal Word and Jesus. Jesus was not eternal. He was a real, flesh and blood person, in whom God took up residence and walked the earth.

To say that Jesus came from heaven makes him more distant, makes him less human, removes him from the common experience he shared with us, his brothers and sisters.

Maybe for you this is an esoteric point. But I think it is crucial. In Jesus, God showed us that “matter matters.” God showed that the life we live in the flesh is being redeemed and being filled with divine presence. We have been made part of a new reality (Jesus called it the “kingdom of heaven”) as we are joined to our Lord in baptism and share his Table. We bear his healing presence in the world. We are, together, an extension of his incarnation. God is present in us. To the degree that we give ourselves to him, we continue his work of bringing life to the world.

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