Reclaiming the Humanity of Jesus

Posted: September 8, 2021 in Uncategorized

Mark 8: 27-38

Reclaiming the Humanity of Jesus

“He comes as yet unknown into a hamlet of Lower Galilee.

He is watched by the cold, hard eyes of peasants

living long enough at subsistence level

to know exactly where the line is drawn between poverty and destitution.

“He speaks about the rule of God,

and they listen as much from curiosity as anything else.”

(John D Crossan)

John Dominic Crossan is the author of those descriptive words about the one called Jesus,

Found in Crossan’s The historical Jesus. The life of a mediterranean jewish peasant. In this book Crossan offers us another lens through which to view Jesus. This lens is one of Jesus as a Jewish peasant. Many have likened this to a similar work on the historical Jesus by Albert Schweitzer, published more than 80 years ago.

In keeping with the debate we have been having as to insiders and outsiders, those in and those out and the debate around evolution, is the universe fixed and unchangeable or constantly evolving these seems that during the time of Jesus there was two streams of thought within Judaism: one an exclusive Judaism, and two an inclusive Judaism. • Exclusive Judaism sought to preserve the ancient traditions as conservatively as possible. And • Inclusive Judaism sought to adapt the ancient traditions through association, combination and collaboration. The place of interpretation in the process of understanding seems top have been a consistent concern.

Getting a handle on this point seems important for us today also because these two streams

act as background for Jesus’ ministry and belief about God. And they act as foreground for the question Mark has Jesus asking his disciples in today’s gospel story: What are people saying about me? Who do people say I am?

The truth is that we all have our own picture of Jesus. And that picture is shaped by the stories in the gospels and the thinking of several theologians. It is a constructed picture – perhaps more as a painting than a photograph – and we have to admit to have ignored those things we find questionable as does any biblical student or Bible interpretation.

Last week I argued that we have very little evidence for a picture of Jesus of Nazareth but that what we have is significant for a vibrant creative profile for a faith journey. I also raised the issue about the birth and development of a movement called Progressive Christianity based on the work of the Jesus Seminar in the late 1980s/early 1990s. A movement initially comprised of a group of more than 75 internationally recognised theologians and biblical scholars who met to share their thinking and research on the Bible. In their first report, titled The five gospels. The search for the authentic words of Jesus, they voted on the authenticity of the stories of the New Testament… using a colour coded legend to express their understanding. They developed the following categories:

When Jesus probably said those words they were coded (Red) When Jesus probably said something like those words they were coded (Pink). When Jesus didn’t say it but it contains his ideas is was coded (Grey) and when Jesus didn’t say it.  And they have been put into his mouth by his followers or the early church they were coded (Black). Why am I saying this? Well when we check today’s gospel story we find that those scholars reckon it falls into the fourth category.

That of words being put into his mouth and this suggests Jesus is in an atypical situation.

What we have is that apart from John’s Gospel, which was maybe written as much as 100 years after the life of Jesus, Jesus does not initiate a dialogue with his own identity as the focus. Does this matter? Does this make it difficult in finding a Jesus profile? I don’t think it does if we are careful. We can still see Jesus as a young man, going to see his cousin John, and being baptised by John. We can see that Jesus began his ministry with a sense of inadequacy. He went to the Jordan to be empowered, for he knew his imperfection. We can also be pretty sure of his character and intent from the story of the so-called ‘calling’ of his intimates. He chose as those who would be close to him humble folk fisherfolk labourers. We can also glean more of his intent by the sense of his love of and compassion for, people. Around him thronged sick people hopeless people common people, and he gave a special place to those who society condemned: scoundrels, harlots widows mentally ill… the lost sheep and not the flock that was safely in the fold.

The picture we get of Jesus is of one who invites all to become people of value, of importance, of greatness even and we are invited to enlarge our picture of God to include humanity, self and to include neighbour and to seek and discover the sacred in ordinary life.

Another part of this picture of Jesus is also of one who taught ‘good humanism’… a turn the other cheek and walk the second mile humanism, a give to others more than they ask. Love one’s enemies and show endless patience. What is significant here is that it is in the ‘humanistic’ side of Jesus we find all are members of one common natural family, no matter what their other pretensions may be.

What we might take carefully here is a conservative reaction to the deconstruction of the sacred or the humanization of Jesus and thus of religious faith. We might remember that religious orientation includes spiritual responses, which can include feelings of appreciation, gratitude, humility, reverence, and joy at the wonder of being alive. It also includes moral responses, involving values rooted in nature—to seek justice and cooperation among social groups and balance in ecosystems. Wonder, although not the only possible response when contemplating the immense scale of matter, space, and time, is surely appropriate once we realise we belong to something so very far beyond us. Such naturalistic wonder and awe counts as deeply spiritual.

Professor of Theology Michael Hogue gathers up these characteristics and suggests, in part, that religious naturalism“…is a humble religious path that decentralizes the human species within the infinitely broader metaphysical and aesthetic rhythms of the Universe. It is a way of knowing that reveres the wisdom of collective human experience and reason more highly than any single sacred book or tradition. It is a quest for wisdom from wherever it may come: from the symbols, myths and rituals of the world’s diverse religious traditions, from literature and the arts, from the intricate splendors of indigenous knowledges to the mind-bending ways of the modern sciences.” (Michael Hogue)

What seems to be developing is an understanding that Nature and naturalism are for us today ‘a main game’ for any progressive spirituality despite the continuing influence of neo-orthodoxy.  If we think back over the past two centuries and recount the ways scientific knowledge has impacted our lives, what would top the list? With the growth of interest in Climate and Global Warming, and the cosmic view it can be suggested that the recognition that nature is constitutive of who and what we are as human beings. “Whether or not we believe that there is something more”, writes Jerome Stone, “nature is so significant that all our beliefs must be reformulated so as to take nature into account.” (Jerome Stone)

And given a chance, the cosmogenesis (cosmic evolution)story is too compelling, too beautiful, too edifying, and too liberating to fail in captivating the imagination of a vast majority of humankind.
“For just as the Milky Way is the universe in the form of a galaxy, and an orchid is the universe in the form of a flower, we are the universe in the form of a human. And every time we are drawn to look up into the night sky and reflect on the awesome beauty of the universe, we are actually the universe reflecting on itself.”  (Thomas Berry)

The human story and the universe story are the same story. We are not encapsulated, separated, isolated beings. Whatever we are, the universe is. “The reality inside of us and the reality outside of us are ultimately one reality. In us the universe dreams its dreams. In us the universe struggles for a moral vision. In us the universe hopes for new possibilities. In us the universe strives for self-understanding. In us the universe seeks the meaning of existence.” (David Bumbaugh) 

Do you not think that Jesus of Nazareth might have been on to something and that that something was why what little he did say made huge sense? And we have been trying to understand him ever since? Amen.


Crossan, J. D. 1991. The historical Jesus. The life of a mediterranean jewish peasant. VIC: Nth Blackburn. CollinsDove.

Funk, R. W.; Hoover, R. W. (ed) 1993.  The five gospels. The search for the authentic words of Jesus. NY: New York. McMillan Publishing.

Loomer, B. M. 1976.  “S-I-Z-E is the measure” in  (ed) H James; B. Lee. Religious experience and process theology. The pastoral implications of a major modern movement. Paulist Press.

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