Posts Tagged ‘divine example’

The Face of Normal

 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only (child), full of grace and truth. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. John 1:14,18

In his book Convictions, the late theologian Marcus Borg has a chapter titled Jesus is the Norm. Borg’s thesis is that trying to discern and follow the will of God from scripture and other religious teachings can be confusing. We only need one source to follow – the life of Jesus. The more we know about how Jesus lived, the more we know about how we can live in harmony with the divine. This stems from the belief that God took on flesh in the person of Jesus and lived among us as a divine example. God, as Spirit, is invisible and mysterious. God in Jesus, however, became visible and tangible. The question, “What would Jesus do?” has often seemed trite to me, and yet it recognizes Jesus as the standard-setter for our behavior. So, what are the implications for our lives if Jesus is the face of normal?

To find answers, we look to the stories of Jesus in the New Testament. Matthew’s chapters 5 and 6 are full of words of wisdom to guide our lives. For example, in 5:42, Jesus says, “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” With regard to nonviolent resistance, “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (5:39). A few passages later (5:44), “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” There are lessons in humility, as in 6:1: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.” For the hoarders: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal” (6:19). And for the worriers, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (6:34).

Words of wisdom are a start, but applying them is another matter. How did Jesus live these principles? In Matthew 8:16, “That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick.” Healing the sick was one of the primary acts of Jesus’ ministry. While we may not be able to cast out spirits with a word, we are all capable of giving our attention, fixing a meal, doing yard work, or visiting the lonely. Healing does not only occur by removing, but also by relieving the physical or mental symptoms. Another pillar of Jesus’ interactions was to feed the hungry. In Matthew’s version of Jesus feeding five thousand people, Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat” (14:16), and he made certain there was food enough for all.  Jesus was not afraid to challenge established authority when they used their power in improper ways. For example, when his disciples were criticized by the religious elite for not observing their dietary laws, Jesus rebuked them, saying, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (15:3). Jesus also demonstrated the importance of individual and private communion with God. From 26:36, “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there to pray.’” If alone time with God was important for Jesus, it is important for us, too.

This is a small sampling from the Gospel of Matthew about how Jesus thought and lived. If I knew anyone who practiced half of what Jesus taught, I would consider them extraordinary. But if Jesus is to be believed, these are not extraordinary acts – they are the norm. Rather than feeling discouraged and inadequate, however, we should remember that the people in Jesus’ time probably did no better than we do. Otherwise, Jesus would not have felt the need to show them a better way. Patterning my life after Jesus’ life is a herculean task from where I am today; but by studying his life I can discern a next step, and then another, in order to draw my life closer to the face of normal.

Note: this is the 27th in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God.

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A Human Face

 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. John 1:18

There is a significant difference in the faces of God presented in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. In the Old Testament, God is mostly mysterious, unpredictable, and intangible. God appears in dreams, as a pillar of cloud, and as a burning bush that is not consumed. God is all-knowing and all-powerful, but aloof and inaccessible except to a select few. In the Jewish Temple, the Holy of Holies – the innermost shrine where God was believed to reside – could not be entered by anyone except the High Priest, and then only once a year. Although God’s grace manifested throughout the Old Testament, particularly in the exiling of the Jewish people from their bonds of slavery in Egypt, God is presented as being mostly unapproachable and capricious, at least for the common folks.

The New Testament presents an entirely different face of God, taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In anticipation of the birth of Jesus, the coming child was referred to as Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” Unlike the God often portrayed in the Old Testament, Jesus had a distinct affinity for regular people and particularly for the outcasts, sick, lame, foreigners, widows, and children. He reserved his stiffest criticism for the religious leaders who piously set themselves and their God apart from being accessible to everyone. Jesus called common fishermen and despised tax collectors to be among his chosen disciples. He associated with prostitutes and lepers. He healed, taught, and fed everyone who came to him with a sincere desire to know and experience God with us.

According to John’s Gospel, Jesus came to make God known. There would be no more struggling to understand the cryptic teachings of the priests and the prophets as go-betweens, mediating between God and God’s people. In Jesus, God was present for all to be touched and witnessed, to be healed, and to experience. Instead of saying, “Obey my commandments,” Jesus said, “Follow me.” In other words, “Do as I do.” Loving and caring for others, tending to those on the fringes of society, welcoming the stranger – God, through Jesus, displayed concrete actions that people could observe and emulate. Jesus modeled non-violence in a decidedly violent world. He preached a message of abundance to a world where food, shelter, and other necessities were hoarded by a few to the detriment of many. He shared a message of love for all to a world sharply divided along lines of race, religion, and nationality. Thankfully, he shared parables that are as relevant today as they were two thousand years ago because most of these divisive realities are still with us today.

John 1:17 says, “The law indeed was given through Moses (Old Testament); grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Verse 18 names Jesus as God’s Son, “who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” The authors of the Old Testament described a God whose mercy and justice was mediated through a set of rules governing human behavior. In the New Testament, God is revealed as a human being, allowing us to learn how to be with God, to be with others, and finally to be with ourselves. God is love, and it is in that love that we find God. Ultimately, we can only find the essence of our being in God. Becoming that love is what Jesus modeled for us. Jesus was God in a human body – fully human and fully spirit. When we realize that we too are a manifestation of this unity of body and spirit, we gain the ability to truly follow Jesus not just as God’s creation, but as co-creators with God in healing our broken world, even as we heal our own broken lives. The human face of God in Jesus calls to us: “Follow me.”

 Note: this is the 21st in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God



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