The title of this essay invites a couple of questions: Why concentrate an entire article on someone we all know well? Secondly, what do you mean by the ‘real’ Jesus? Are there ‘fake’ Saviors of the world?
This article is very important in understanding our three-year renewal of our parish community for our 100th Anniversary.
The reason why I want to concentrate on Jesus is that we are Christians—disciples of Jesus the Christ, the Messiah who came not just for the Chosen People but for everyone on earth. Many want to ignore Jesus because he is a limitation on God: God is not male. God is not Palestinian. God is not confined to a single moment in history, existing in a particular place, in a particular century, in specific circumstances of life.
The Incarnation of God as Jesus of Nazareth is a shocking thing! It seems like a radical limitation of God. This is the reason Jews and Muslims who share our belief in one God can never accept our Christian Faith: it is, in their thinking, a bringing down of the Divinity, a trashing of the Greatness of God. Why should God become a baby, needing to eat and sleep?
It is shocking and it should rattle our cages. But we cannot water down our faith in the Incarnation because it is difficult to believe. The Old Testament is filled with the utter closeness of God to His holy people. Seen in this perspective, the Incarnation seems like a logical step forward in the manifestation of God’s tender and powerful love for His creation: especially toward human beings who have been created in God’s own image and likeness.
Part of the burden of Christology (the study of Christ) is to fully preserve this radical closeness while asserting the utter transcendence and power of God. Going in only one direction of this balance lands one in the company of heretics who have settled into the belief in only one of these truths and denying the other side. Some heresies say that Jesus was just a great man favored by God, like Abraham and David. While others underline His Divinity and see Him play-acting here on earth behind a sort of mask or costume of humanity, playing a sort of cosmic make-believe. Many have ended up in one or the other camps that the Church has rightly condemned as only partially correct.
Besides this historical tension in meaning with regards to the true identity of Jesus the Christ (Messiah), there is the all too human tendency to remake Christ after one’s own image and likeness, or at least according to the prevailing winds of the age. Thus, Christ has been seen as a benevolent teacher, as a revolutionary, as a Palestinian peasant, as a misunderstood Jewish prophet, and so many more. Besides the historical and cultural malformations of the true identity of Jesus, there is the personal mirage we have of Christ: the permissive father, the angry authoritarian, the weak-kneed friend who enables all my desires and wants.
There are many ways that humanity has tried to reimagine Jesus Christ according to their own needs and desires. But Who is the real Jesus?
For this we must go to the real Jesus in prayer. Useless are the efforts of even the greatest scholars if they don’t go to the real Jesus in prayer. Study helps. Intelligence, when it serves the Creator, helps. But the real Jesus reveals Himself to the humblest and most uneducated person who opens his mind and heart to Him.
When St. Thomas Aquinas, after writing hundreds of volumes of theology, was saying Mass, the real Jesus revealed Himself to him. His response? “Everything I have ever written about Him is just straw to be put into the fire.” Surpassing what even the greatest intellect the Church has ever produced was the real Jesus!
That is the same Jesus whom we pray to every time we lift our mind and heart to Him in prayer. That is the real Jesus.
But could it be the deceiver who has appeared in a great disguise. Yes. But one Hail Mary would reveal the demon as it shrieks away in terror. (Always stay close to Mary our Mother who, from the Book of Genesis onwards, crushes the head of the tempter!)
The second help in finding the real Jesus is by respecting the authority of Scripture and the teaching of the Church. These provide ‘guard rails’ to make sure we stay true to the historical witness of the Church. Individually, we can still make mistakes, but we can easily be corrected by the teaching of Scripture as interpreted by the constant witness of the Church as she provides the saints and scholars who can explain and witness to the person of the real Jesus Who loves us enough that He died to free us from the slavery of sin.
The exciting news in all this is that the real Jesus is near us ready to speak to us and act in us if we only approach Him with faith. He can do this simultaneously with everyone who asks by the graces of His Resurrection and Ascension.
He is real and ready to be the Lord of our lives! He stands at the door of our hearts, knocking (cf. Revelation 3:20). We have but to open.