Not a Super Hero, but an Authentic Human

woman holding self-portrait
Photo credit: <a href="">Mrs. Logic</a>

Mark 8:27-38

Jesus took his students with him to Caesarea Philippi. As they were traveling, he asked them, “Who are people saying I am?”

They said, “Some say you’re John the dunker. Others say you’re Elijah. Others say you’re another truth-teller.”

He asked them, “What do you have to say about me?”

Peter said, “You are the anointed one.”

And so Jesus told them not to tell anyone about him.

Instead, Jesus began to teach his students that the authentic human must suffer and be rejected by the rulers, the religious, and the bureaucrats, that he must be executed and three days later return to life. He said this was no secret.

Peter took Jesus aside and berated him, but Jesus turned his back to Peter, and as he looked at his other students said to him, “Get behind me, Satan. You don’t speak for God. In fact, you’re thinking is quite banal.”

He called the crowd and his students together and told them: “If you want to be my follower, you’ll have to put your willingness to be executed for treason against your overlords ahead of your own concerns. If you’re concerned with saving your own skin, you’re as good as dead. But whoever dies for me and and for the sake of this mission will really live. What’s it worth to have the whole world if you’re dead? Really, what will you trade your life away for? Whoever is embarrassed by their association with me and what I say because you want to fit in with all the cheating and corruption going on – the authentic human will consider them embarrassments when that one comes with the splendor of God commanding heaven’s legions.”

Notice the sharp contrast in this episode between Jesus’ self-understanding as being the authentic human and Peter’s identification of Jesus as “the anointed one.” The anointed one, the messiah, is someone who was commonly understood to be the hero who would come with super-human powers to rescue the people, who remain passive pawns in a divinely ordained game of geopolitics.

Jesus immediately rejects Peter’s understanding of the mission. Far from being a super-man with extra-human power, Jesus begins to teach them about being authentically human. The term traditionally, literally rendered, “Son of Man,” comes from the book of Daniel. Some recent translations, in the interest of inclusive language, have rendered it “the Human One.” But what’s at stake in the human one is what it means to be authentically human.

Mark’s Jesus insists that to be authentically human is to be willing to suffer, to be rejected, even to die, in order to take the side of the oppressed and abused. There is no glorious rescue from beyond. There is only the human work of restoring to the human family those who have been dehumanized for the profit of the rulers, the religious, and the bureaucratic task-masters. Mark’s Jesus insists that the only way to truly live, to be immortal, is to give oneself completely over to that cause. Paradoxically, fitting in, going along to get along, failing to stand up to the powers of oppression inevitably lead to an inauthentic unsustainable humanity. For Mark’s Jesus, authenticity is life, in-authenticity is death.

For those, like Peter, who are hoping for a knight on a white horse to sweep in at the last moment and save the day, the messianic expectation is bound to end in disappointment. Moreover, the misappropriation of Jesus’ mission as a messianic rescue mission will even lead those who insist on it to become unwitting agents of the very oppressors Jesus has come to stand against. Jesus turns and offers his back to Peter’s betrayal, and at the same time implores his own students, and anyone else who will listen in the crowds, to take the opportunity to join the ranks of an authentic humanity.

Jesus and the Skeptic

man walking toward the light in the woods
Photo credit: <a href="">Hartwig HKD</a>

John 1:43-51

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Phil and said, “Tag along!” (Phil was from Bethsaida, the same city Andy and Pete were from.)

Phil found Nate and said, “We’ve found the guy Moses and the truth-tellers were talking about. He’s Jesus, Joe’s kid, from Noweheresville.”

“Nowheresville?” Nate said, “Nothing good’s ever come out of Nowheresville.”

Phil said, “Just come and see.”

When Jesus saw Nate coming, he said, “Now here’s a real patriot! Not a skeptical bone in his body.”

“You don’t know anything about me,” Nate said.

Jesus said, “I know you were sitting under a fig tree when Phil called you.”

“Professor,” Nate said, “You’re the divine one! You’re Israel’s king!”

Jesus said, “You’re saying that just because I told you I saw you sitting under a fig tree! You’ll see bigger things than that. No joke. I’m telling you you’ll see the open gates of heaven and God’s messengers coming and going to the human one.”

Beyond this incident, Nathanael is mentioned only at the end, post resurrection, among the seven who encounter Jesus after an unsuccessful night’s fishing (Jn 21:1-3). So the disciple who questions whether Jesus will amount to anything turns out to be one that disappears into the woodwork.

The whole point of Jesus saying, “Not a skeptical bone in his body,” is that he’s skeptical through and through. Not to mention that a true patriot would never address a peasant from Nowheresville as king and mean it.

When Nate says, “You’re the divine one,” Jesus calls his bluff, saying he will see God’s messengers come only to a human one, but it’s ok, since being human is an “even greater thing.”

In the midst of all this sarcasm and skepticism, the point is that Nate’s expectations of the messiah are completely the opposite of who Jesus really is, and who in spite of that, is still promised, “no joke,” that someday he will see.

For now, Nate is only engaging because he’s going along with his friend Phil. He’s a second-hand disciple. Jesus didn’t call him, Phil did. If Jesus had called him, he probably wouldn’t have come. But that’s ok, too. Because that’s how many of us got into the movement. We were skeptics just checking it out as a favor to a friend. Until we really did see for ourselves that it’s greater to be human.

You Have the Power. Live It!

No Sermon, Pastor In LasVegas
Photo Credit: The Atomic Eye

Matthew 21:23-32

While Jesus was occupying the National Cathedral, the bishops and the priests came to interrupt his teaching, saying, “Show us your papers, and tell us who you’re working for?”

Jesus said, “Here’s the deal, you tell me something first, and then I’ll give you what you want. But first you tell me whether John’s baptism was heaven-sent, or if he just made it up himself.”

They debated among themselves: “If we say John was authorized by heaven, he’ll ask us why we didn’t believe him. But if we say he just invented it himself the crowds here, who all think he was heaven-sent, will lynch us.” So they said, “We don’t know.”

“Fine,” said Jesus. “Then I’m not showing you my papers either.

“But think about this:

A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, “Son, you need to put in a day’s work at the family business.” And the son said, “Hell, no.” But later on, he went anyway.

The man went to the second son with the same order, and the second son said, “Yes, Sir!” But then he never showed up.

“Now which son did what his father asked?”

“The first one,” they said.

Jesus said, “No doubt there are bookies and whores who are closer to God than you lot. John told you how to do right, but you passed him off. But there were bookies and whores who got it. And even when you saw they got it, you still ignored the truth he was telling you about yourselves.”

Jesus did tell them whose authority he had that day. But, in the same way they didn’t get what John was saying, they didn’t get what Jesus was saying either. Jesus got his authority from his baptism – John’s baptism – in which Jesus, along with the bookies, whores and rest of the crowds who were there that day “got” that they were all children of God.

It’s the same authority everyone has who has “got” that they are God’s children. And, in the same way, anyone of any religion or no religion, who has “got” a calling and knows who they really are has that same authority. It’s the authority of knowing oneself to be fully human. As such, Jesus’ authority and yours and mine is no less than any other human on the planet.

In spite of those who think of themselves as “higher authorities” and set up social, economic, political, and religious systems wherein everyone else is robbed of theirs, Jesus and the rest of us have the power to do what we are called to do, by virtue of our humanity – even if that means occupying the National Cathedral (or any other idolatrous monument).

This is what the parable is about. Those who, in spite of rough beginnings, discover their calling and show up for life – live. Those who talk a good line about how everybody else ought to live, but never show up to live it themselves – don’t.

You Can Do Anything (When Nothing Is Beneath You)

Hands togetherPhilippians 2:1-13

(See also, Daily Reading comments on Philippians 2:1-4 and Philippians 2:13-15.)

So then, if Jesus encourages you, if love comforts you, if you would share a greater purpose, if you yearn for community, then I’d rejoice to see you work through your differences, love one another, stick together, and find points of agreement. Don’t do things just to promote yourself; try to give someone else a lift. And, among you, it’s not “every man for himself,” rather seek the common good.

Be like Jesus:

Being as God, for him, wasn’t the point.
Instead he gave himself away,
Becoming a nobody, becoming human.

And being fully human, nothing was beneath him –
Not even, to achieve God’s aim, crucifixion.

So God esteemed him,
And put his name first on the list.
This is why we bow to him,
Whether we’re in heaven, on earth, or in the pits.
This is why we call him our Leader.

So then, as you have always done as I have asked, not only when I was with you, but also since I’ve been gone, I’m asking you now to do the work. Your salvation is in our own hands; and God’s desire for good finds expression in your longings and in your work.

It’s widely agreed that the central poem here is probably a hymn sung in the first generation church. In the original, I’m sure it was beautiful and mystical. But the message in the music is that to be divine, that to really and fully live, one must become fully human. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what Paul says those who follow him must do.

It makes perfect sense. We’re human; humanity is all we’ve got. So long as we try to be something else, that something else isn’t real but a fantasy, a projection, an empty wish.

I’m convinced that if church (or any other institution) could be more about getting in touch with our humanity rather than trying to buy an entrance into heaven, it would be more successful. Not to mention more faithful.

The power of being fully human is highly underestimated by many people. But as the hymn suggests, once you are fully human, that’s when you can do anything to achieve a greater, even divine, goal. The first generation church realized that this was what the life and death of Jesus demonstrated. And it was so powerful they called its discovery, “Resurrection.”