18. AND, WHO DO YOU SAY HE IS?. Who is Jesus of Nazareth?

Created: Friday, 26 July 2013 Last Updated: Monday, 31 March 2014

Who is Jesus of Nazareth?

1.-  In our time, two thousand years later, the question is still alive: who is Jesus of Nazareth? A myth? A prophet? A revolutionary? A brother for every man? Someone serving in our life? That who, without him, nothing would have sense? We approach his personality, advancing little by little, in successive approaches: from the most external data (even contrary) to the deepest aspects, that can only be known through a living experience of faith.
2. -      We begin by the most external data. Jesus of Nazareth appears humbly between us, “like any man” (Phil 2,7). He is born in Bethlehem (Mt 2,1; Lk 2,4) at the beginning of our era, under the government of the emperor Augustus (from 27 b. C. to 14 a. D.) and king Herod (from 27 to 4 b. C), but it is in Nazareth where he is brought up (Lk 4,16). Baptized by John in the year fifteen of emperor Tiberius (Lk 3,1.21; about year 28 a. D.), he begins his mission when he is “about thirty years old” (Lk 3,23). Condemned under Pontius Pilate (26-36 a. D.), he dies crucified about the year 30.
3. -      The non-Christian sources talk about Jesus when there are already many Christians. Roman historian Tacitus (beginning of the second century) talks about Jesus when speaking about the first persecution of the Christians during the ruling of Nero (year 64 a. D.): “This name comes from Christ, to whom the procurer Pontius Pilate had condemned to death, under the reign of Tiberius. This odious superstition, repressed for a while, extended again, not only in Judea, where the evil started, but also in Rome to where all detestable and dishonourable things that the world produces is found and where it has found numerous adepts” (Annals 15,44).
4. -      Other non-Christian sources: A letter of Asia Minor governor, Plinius the Youngster, to the emperor Trajan (year 110 a. D), says, among other things, that the Christians meet in a determined date for an ordinary meal and that, besides denying themselves to render cult to the emperor, “they sing a hymn in Christ’s honour, as if he were God” (Letters 10, 96; see also Suetonius, The Life of Claudius 25,4). About the year 90, Jewish historian Flavius Josephus talks about the stoning to death, the year 62, of Saint James, the “brother of Jesus, called the Christ” (Jewish antiquities XX, 9,1; see Acts 12,2.17). In the Jewish Talmud we can read: “Jesus of Nazareth was hang from a cross, because he practiced the magic and pulled the people out of the good way”.
5. -      The adversaries accuse Jesus of talking like a prophet, but without living as such. They compare his way of living with that of John: John and his disciples fast, Jesus eats and drinks (Mt 11,16-19). Besides, they consider him dangerous: He upsets the established order, breaks the rules of the religious and social game. They accuse him of crushing the Saturday, of making himself equal to God (Jn 5,18), of being possessed by the devil (8,48; Lk 11,15). Of course, Jesus does not teach the old Sadducee theology. The Sadducees are partisans of the pact with the empire, they think that God abandons the world to its own destiny, they say that the resurrection is a novelty with no foundation.
6. -      People who follows him perceives in Jesus “a prophet” (Mt 16, 14). He is “a priest forever in the order of Melquisedec” (Ps 110,4;Heb 5,6), but he is not a Leviticus priest. In the social and religious context of his time, Jesus appears “like a lay prophet, in normal dress” (see Jn 19,23). Suspicious for the sacerdotal class, he initiates a movement whose followers are simple persons. He teaches the God´s word and forms community (Mk 2,3;Lk 8,21). His way of teaching is profane, popular, direct. He announces to the people God’s action in history (Mt 3,2), he proclaims the signals that liberate (Mt 11,5).
7. - Jesus is a free man. He owes himself to his own mission above the bread (Lk 4,4), above the wealth (9, 58), above the family (8,19), even giving up the conjugal life (Mt 19,12). His freedom is unheard of. The disciples who follow him see in him an exceptional personality. They perceive, more or less consciously, that that personality has no foundation in itself, but in other source. So, for instance, the Samaritan asks herself: Could he not be the Christ? (Jn 4,29).
8. -      The Hebrew title of Messiah (in greek, Christ, that means Anointed) alludes to the so long expected king, who would replace the foreign dominion by God’s sovereignty. It was a dangerous title, since it was associated to nationalists’ political expectations. Although at least one of his disciples, Simon the Zealot (Lk 6, 16), had been a nationalist, Jesus does not appear in any place like partisan of the violent revolution. In the process that he suffers, Jesus manifests his position: “My kingship does not come from this world” (Jn 18, 36). Regardless everything, he is condemned as a subversive person, as the label in the cross says: “King of the Jews” (19, 19).
9. -      At the end, Jesus cause has a religious origin, but it has social and political consequences. Jesus confronts the religious, political and social system, represented by the temple (Mk 11,17; Jn 2, 13-22). The same persons dominate everything: a sacerdotal hierarchy, which receives his ministerial office by heritage, which does not posses the popular sympathy and which – in total dependency of the roman power of occupation – exerts his power in conjunction with other influencing groups: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the rich. The imprecations that he threw against them testify his great rage. (Lk 11,39-54; 6,24). Jesus condemns their presumptuous attitude (Lk 18,9-14), and their social and religious role (Mt 23). And he opts for the little and the poor (Lk 4,18), for the crowd submitted by the powerful ones (Mt 9,36).
10. -    Jesus defines himself with a mysterious title: the son of man. In the evangels it always appears in Jesus words (Mk 10,33; Jn 9,35). It comes from Daniel’s prophecy. A hope is announced to a believing people, persecuted to death by bestial powers: “AS a son of man came on the clouds of heaven, to whom a kingdom is given that shall never pass away” (Dn 7, 13-14). In Daniel’s dreams, human (political) realities appear like wild beasts and divine realities like human persons (God, the son of man). Jesus is the son of man, crucified by bestial powers and constituted Lord of history, equal to God. In an astonishing challenge, Jesus told Caiaphas: “From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Most Powerful God and coming on the clouds of Heaven” (Mt 26, 64).
11. -    Besides, Jesus defines himself like the son of God. In the Bible, this title is often used to express a special man’s relationship with God: in this manner the just is son of God (Wis 2,18); also are those who receive the Word (Jn 1,12-13) and those who resurrect (Lk 20, 36). Nevertheless in Jesus, that title receives a unique meaning: he is “the son” (Mk 13,32; Mt 11,27; 21,37). Jesus relationship with God is the maximum possible: “I, myself, and the father are one” he says (Jn 10,30; see 5, 16-18). He also says: “the father is more than myself” (14, 28). In his baptism psalm 2 is accomplished: “You are my son, I have procreated you today” Teaching in the temple, Jesus raises the question of his own personal identity : The teachers of the Law say that the Messiah is the son of David. How can that be? David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit declared: The Lord said to my Lord: sit at right until I put your enemies under your feet. David himself calls him Lord, in what way can he be his son?(Mk 12,35-37; see Ps 110). If Christ is his son, why David calls him Lord? The Christ is something more than David, more that Salomon, more than Jonah (see Lk 11, 31 - 329
12. -    The newly born Church considers Christ’s confession the essential of its faith. Peter proclaims it in the Pentecost’s day: “To Jesus, the Nazorean, man credited by God among you with miracles, prodigies and signals… you killed him nailing him on a cross, under the hand of the impious… To this Jesus, God resurrected him, act of which all of us are witnesses. And exalted by God´s right hand, he has received from the father the promised holy spirit and he has poured what you see and hear… God has made him Lord and Christ (Acts 2, 22 - 36). Peter sings it: “God raised him over everything and gave him the Name that outshines all names” (Phil 2,9). He is “the image of the unseen God”, “he is the firstborn of all the creation”, “everything has its consistency in him”, he is “the first raised from the dead” (Col 1,15-20; see Lk 20,36).
13. -    Jesus is the Lord, same than God, and has with the father a relationship from the origin: he is the son. By divine inspiration, Peter anticipated it in the Caesarea’s confession (Mt 16,16; see Mk 1,11). He always has been. The entire Gospel is arranged to this: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God” (Jn 20,31). He is the word that pitched his tent among us (Jn 1,14). Faith confession is expressed in brief formulas: “Jesus is the Lord” (1 Co 12,3), “Jesus is the Christ” (1 Jn 2,22), “Jesus is the son of God” (Acts 8,37; 1Jn 4,15; Heb 4,14). The symbol of the fish is also a brief faith confession: the greek word ICHTHYS (fish), corresponds to the initials of the following faith confession: Iesoûs, Christòs, Theoû. Yiòs, Sotér, it is to say, Jesus, Christ, Son of God, Saviour. But, do not forget, “nobody knows well the son, but the father (Mt 11,27). We need God himself to tell that to us, an alive faith experience.
* Dialogue: For us, who is Jesus of Nazareth?