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Locating the Divinity of Jesus

Locating the Divinity of Jesus

For love of Jesus followers have laden him with honorifics and exaggerations which, when all is said and done (as with an eighty-three year old brain like mine, said and done, that is), is a disservice to the savior of the world.

The Galilean rabbi, son of Mary and Joseph, has from the beginning of the Christian Era been touted for his miracles. Walking on water, for instance, has entered the public consciousness as an epitome of divinity… as if defying gravity proves anything in this age of weightless space travel.  Or the healings – of leprosy, blindness, hemorrhaging, lameness, even death, impressive in the age before penicillin and laser surgery – as if they might wow anyone in the current generation, like CCRWH, with his two prosthetic knees.

Still many, if not all, of those of us who love Jesus feel obliged to embellish his life from virgin birth to resurrection with tales of his supernatural powers, as if therein lies the proof of his divinity.

Oh, the irony!  Christians celebrate the Incarnation, God becoming flesh in Jesus, and immediately do their best (or worst) by seeking to prove he isn’t the same kind of flesh as the rest of us.

In a Sunday School book, written for the Presbyterian curriculum by noted historian Roland Bainton, the Danish missionary Ansgar is quoted in his humble dismissal of the legendary miracles that were credited to him, with the observation that the greatest miracle would be that God could make him a good man.

Therein lies the essence of Jesus’ divinity, that he was a good man.  Or as the Chalcedonian Creed (451 A.D.) puts it, “true man.”  Yes, yes, the church leaders there in ancient Turkey phrased it “true God and true man”; but then as now and all the ages between the friends of the Galilean carpenter have pushed and sometimes pushed very hard (think Gnostic Gospels, recently in favor) to elevate him beyond mortal capacity.

Though not beyond mortal capacity, the achievement of true humanity, a truly good humanity, has been accomplished in one soul alone in the history of the world.  Right, the one whose birthday is celebrated on December 25th.

Two measures tell the story of his unparalleled excellence.  First, his love of God, thorough and full, in keeping with the commandment he named the first and greatest, loving God with heart, mind, soul, and strength.  The cross stands in every corner of the world as a testament to the completeness of Jesus’ loving faithfulness to God.  There is no need to belabor this point.  It is reflexively granted by nearly everyone, including those who cannot comprehend why so many of us make a fuss over him.

The second measure you have already guessed.  Right, that he loves you and me and everyone else who has ever drawn or will yet draw breath, with a love celebrated in I Corinthians 13, the love that has no end for all its self-giving; a love that bears all things, including the shame and forsakenness of the cross, those two crossed beams of wood he took from, for, and because of us. Macho men in the modern age shrink from any accusation of being a bleeding heart. Jesus embraces it, and those who follow him soon learn that his kind of love for all its softness is harder and sturdier (and more precious) than diamond.

At the healing of the paralytic at Capernaum, echoed in the healing referenced above reported in the Gospel according to John, Jesus typically minimizes the physical miracle enabling the invalid to take up his mat and walk.  The greater miracle he claims is God's forgiveness of sins, divinely more difficult than the restrengthening of muscles and bone.

Divinity does not consist in the rearrangement of physical facts by mysterious means.  Divinity consists in the quality and the quantity of our loving.  By this measure Jesus, in whom the two great commandments are perfectly manifested, deserves the title Son of God.



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