Jesus and the Christ, Part 1
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
The title of the first chapter of the book The Universal Christ by contemplative author Richard Rohr is Christ Is Not Jesus’ Last Name. Thanks to centuries of the unintentionally misleading renaming of Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus Christ, including by common Bible translations, it is understandable that we have lost the distinction between Jesus and the Christ. Jesus of Nazareth was a man, the son of Joseph and Mary, who most likely adopted his father’s trade as a builder until he was baptized by John the Baptist. During the baptism he heard a voice from heaven naming him as God’s beloved and took his place as a teacher, healer, and mentor. He awoke to his position in relation to God in a way few of us have or will. He consciously understood himself as loved and chosen by God and spent the rest of his earthly days trying to awaken others to the same realization – not that he was the only Christ of God, as is commonly believed, but that all of creation is the Christ (chosen and beloved) of God. We simply do not know or believe it, nor are we willing to accept the responsibility to others that comes by living into such knowledge. The Christ is everything of the earth which has been infused by the Spirit of God – which is everything.
To make better sense of this challenging distinction I will begin with the Word of God. This Word causes as much or more confusion than the title of Christ. Many people refer to the Bible as the Word of God, as in, “I spend time in the Word every morning,” meaning they read the Bible every morning. The underlying assumption for many is that the Bible contains the actual, inerrant, and spoken words of God. It is far more accurate to say that various expressions of the Word of God are contained in the words of the Bible. God’s living Word cannot be contained in or reduced to human words. We can, however, receive glimpses of the images, experiences, and emotions through which God inspired the biblical authors to write what they wrote. As such we can experience expressions of the Word of God by entering into those images, experiences, and emotions through reflective reading of the Bible and other sacred texts. The belief that the Bible is the Word of God is not wrong, per se, but it is misleading and understated. If we believe the Bible is the only Word of God, as in the perfect, complete, and inerrant Word of God, then we are neither appreciating the magnitude of the Word of God, nor are we honoring the nature of the sacred writings of the Bible.
In a similar way, some see Jesus as the Word of God, an idea seemingly supported in the first chapter of John, as in, “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” When we believe Jesus is the Word of God, as in the only Word of God, we are misrepresenting Jesus of Nazareth and underrepresenting the magnitude of the Word of God. Rather, both the Bible and Jesus are expressions of the Word of God. When the Bible says, “The Word became flesh and lived among us” it refers to God’s creating power dwelling in our flesh as us.
The origins of the imagery of the Word of God come from the opening verses of the book of Genesis where creation is described as occurring in this way: “And God said …” This is how the author chose to describe what otherwise cannot be accurately described in words. In this case, the author likens God’s creating action to God speaking. The linguistic connection is that when we speak, we create waves of energy that others receive as sound. The author of Genesis described waves of energy that shape the earth into everything we experience as creation, using the image of the source of that energy as God speaking. In that way, the Word of God refers to a powerful, creating energy and not to a person or set of writings, which are singular expressions of that speaking.
The Christ, which refers to the anointed or chosen of God, is the product of God’s creative energy. God chose to create us, and God loves what God creates. Unfortunately, humans mostly fail to understand or accept their chosenness or their belovedness. Jesus, unlike us, awoke to the knowledge of his oneness with and his chosenness by God and lived accordingly.
This is the 17th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.
 Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ. Convergent Books, 2019, p. 11.