Who Jesus Christ Was and Is
Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.
This Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, puts an exclamation point on the year-long meditation on the mysteries of our faith in Jesus Christ. On what you might call this "Summative Sunday", can it be said succinctly who Jesus Christ was and is? Let me give myself that challenge.
1. First of all Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew, of a Jewish family, village, tribe, history and tradition, faith, culture, and identity. He was not purely an individual as we think of an individual in our modern world, but found his identity in the bonded community and story of his Jewish people. He prayed and worshipped as one with his people, worked and lived in a tight-knit extended family of relationships, thought, felt and acted as a Jew. In his prayer and pondering he bore in himself the whole history of God’s action in his people intended by God to be a light through them to the nations. He did not think or speak a universal language or act in a way-for-all-times but thought, spoke and acted in a Jewish way. Everything he said and did must be understood through this Jewish way of being of his day or will not be fully understood. Not only was Jesus Jewish but Jesus in his actual reality even now in God and in us in the fullness of his humanity is Jewish.
2. Jesus was a prophet who spoke and acted from deep within himself, from who he was in truth—however much he grasped his own truth fully—spoke and acted as a prophet believing God was active in him and powerful in him. Others were astounded how this meant he spoke with authority and freedom as no one had ever spoken. When he acted he found the power of God acting through him in doing what we call miracles but would be known by him and by the people as simply the great works of God.
3. All that Jesus of Nazareth said and did was about compassion, the compassion of God for his people and for all people, abundant, unparalleled, shocking, compassion beyond any human experience or understanding of compassion. The people could only be jolted into glimpsing this irrational compassion of God by parables and powerful deeds of healing, forgiveness, and casting out spirits. Jesus not only was but is even now the compassion of God, a compassion full of authority and freedom.
4. So much did Jesus experience God acting in him and find that his very identity was this reality of God showing his divinity through his own human depth and truth, that he came to understand himself not just as a son of God—as all of his people understood themselves—but uniquely as the Son of God. He came to understand himself as the Messiah, the Anointed of God, the Promised Kingly Christ. God was doing in and through him what God had promised to do in and through the Jewish people, to bring about a new definitive era of God’s reign in the world, a new presence, a reconciliation of all with God.
5. Thus was born in him the central, all-surpassing, passionate announcing, initiating, and trying to turn his people around to the Kingdom of God on earth. Jesus became absorbed almost obsessed by the Kingdom, what God wills for us and for our world. Everything Jesus did and said focused on this Kingdom of God. The Kingdom came from within him and he knew himself as its first instance. He still is the Christ of thJesus Christ did not cease being Jewish, or prophet, or the compassion of God, or the unique Son of God, or the place of God’s presence in the world, or the bearer of all suffering and sins, or the first actualization of the Kingdom of God in the world, or human bodily life risen and transformed. He is still all this...e Kingdom of God in this world, for though it has begun in him and has some grasp on us in faith and grace, the Kingdom of God has not yet come on earth, though we know because of him that it shall.
6. Jesus acted faithful to the compassion of God and the Kingdom of God, increasingly making clear in ever more pointed words and deeds what God was doing anew through him and the need for conversion to this God and to faith in himself as the Christ of God. He dramatically showed how God was turning upside down what his own beloved people expected when in the culminating, dramatic action of cleansing the temple he claimed for himself in actuality what was the symbolic role of the temple as the place of God’s presence, thus shockingly claiming that he was himself the place of God’s presence in the world.
7. This was hard stuff to take and it was not taken by the formerly enthusiastic people or the religious leaders and barely by his own disciples and table-companions, men and women whom he had called out to be in communion with him in who he was, what he was claiming, and what he was doing. He ended up essentially alone, abandoned, betrayed, judged, denied, the Suffering Servant, bearing the sins of his people in an excruciatingly torturous and demeaning death on a cross. Even at the moment of death he unfailingly claimed his truth as he knew it, clung even in abandonment to the incomprehensible compassion of God, and trusted that somehow as he was dying the Kingdom of God on earth was being initiated in him. He died in darkness. He not only then bore in death but still bears in life the sins and suffering of us all before the Compassionate One he lovingly calls "Father".
8. We are not finished in saying succinctly who Jesus Christ was and is, nor was he. The incomprehensible God of compassion reached out and caught him tumbling into the dark abyss of death, caught him in his full truth and in his and our full humanity, caught him up into life and into his place in the communion of the Trinity. Because of his faithfulness and God’s compassion, he was raised up. The kingdom of risen, transformed human life—first his and then ours—was inaugurated in and through his rising from the dead. Jesus Christ as the risen Lord is the assurance of and the manifestation of the same kind of risen, transformed human life we shall live in the final Kingdom of God on earth. If you want to know what you will be like, see it in Jesus Christ risen bodily and transformed and really himself in God’s life. Essentially what happened to him beyond death shall happen to us in the Kingdom. Not only did Jesus Christ become Lord—as he was proclaimed excitedly across the Mediterranean world—but he is our Lord. Our humanity is now in God and God’s Spirit is poured out in us.
9. Jesus Christ did not cease being Jewish, or prophet, or the compassion of God, or the unique Son of God, or the place of God’s presence in the world, or the bearer of all suffering and sins, or the first actualization of the Kingdom of God in the world, or human bodily life risen and transformed. He is still all this, and because of our faith, life, prayer, worship, and action is increasingly Lord as he catches more of our reality into risen life with him. He calls us as truly now to be disciples and table-companions in communion with him as he originally called men and women as disciples. He makes us through our faith, sacraments, church, and life the new light to the nations and empowers us to make the incomprehensible compassion of God, which we experience in him, manifest in the works of justice and love in our world. He brings about the Kingdom through us.
10. There is so much more in our faith, creed, doctrines and tradition which has been wrapped around this core truth about Jesus. We need all of it but it can also obscure the light shining from within the core truth about our Lord Jesus Christ the King, the lamp of our life and our world. "Oh", you say, "this is how you respond to the challenge of saying succinctly who Jesus Christ was and is". I say, "Yes". How do you respond to that challenge?
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