‘The Galilean Nobody’

Posted: November 20, 2022 in Uncategorized

‘The Galilean Nobody’

In recent times today in the lectionary has been traditionally called ‘The Feast of Christ the King’ Sunday. And by recent, I mean every year since it was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925. Originally, it was celebrated on the last Sunday in October, but it was moved to the last Sunday of After Pentecost Time immediately preceding Advent, making it a fitting end to the liturgical year. In recent years it underwent a name change: to the ‘Reign of Christ’. Its original introduction was in response to the perceived rise of secularism throughout Europe, and when dangerous dictatorships were emerging in Europe and beyond. In reality: the political power of one challenging the political power of another. In justification for its inclusion in the Lectionary, it is claimed there are ‘countless passages throughout the New Testament’ where Jesus is referred to as “King.” But those referrals are by others. Not by the historical Jesus.

The earliest sources known to biblical scholars suggest a plausible Jesus is an impoverished Palestinian situated in his historical circumstances… That is, in the north-west corner of the Galilee, in the early Roman Empire sometime between the years 26–36 CE. We have referred to the subversive assumptions placed upon Galileans by the Roman Governors. It is a place well known for the provision of rebels against the state.

Jesus was one who did things and said things that a real person could have reasonably believed or done at that time “and were remembered by his earliest companions, and repeated to others after the crucifixion”. Galileans were peasants, were poor, were nobodies. And considered political rabble-rousers. The mere speaking with a Galilean accent could mean immediate arrest.

We are the heirs of several ways of interpreting this Galilean Jesus. One leads to Supernatural understanding: the fully God and fully human ‘God-Man’ mediator between human beings and God. Called ‘the Christ’. Often Jesus Christ as if ‘Christ’ is his surname! The other leads to a natural humanistic understanding which supports his radical emphasis on love “as the overarching posture within which humans should live out their lives.”

In the interests of transparency, And the choice of serious scholarship over tradition Rex Hunt comes down on the naturalistic side of Jesus in biblical scholarship. This is also at the core of much Progressive scholarship led by the Westar Institute/Jesus Seminar.

Hunt comments of the way Catholic theologian Elizabeth Johnson— a woman not afraid of upsetting the church hierarchy—described this ‘natural’ Jesus. “Born of a woman… and the Hebrew gene pool, [he] was a creature of earth, a complex unit of minerals and fluids, an item in the carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen cycles, a moment in the biological evolution of this planet. Like all human beings, he carried within himself the signature of the supernovas and the geology and life history of the Earth…”

Most Progressive theologians could agree. Rex says that with a scenario spinner’s imagination this ‘natural’ Jesus invited others to re-imagine the world with him. His ‘tools-of-trade’ were parables, short stories, and aphorisms. Most of his provocative and permissive secular stories feature characters from the peasant class in an agrarian village society. All were part and parcel of first century Judaism.

But that is also thought not quite enough and a claim is that Jesus was not your traditional Judean sage or teacher… A first step in finding wisdom in his sayings is to recognise that: He does not appeal to Torah; He does not invoked God as authority for statements; Some things later attributed to him did not originate with him. And most important… He was Jewish, not Christian, and not even the first Christian; As one of the Jesus Seminar scholars, Charles Hedrick, proposes: “…I tend to think of Jesus as a lower class unschooled popular sage, a shrewd critic of his own culture and its values, who expressed himself in brief memorable language…” Domonic Crossan gas written of Jesus as a mystic also.

But turning to alternative Matthew text for today we might say that in addition to the first three ‘blessed’ in this morning’s Lukan text there is one saying, called an aphorism, as example of his teaching style… “Be as sly as snakes and simple as pigeons” (Matt 10:16)

That has to be a bit of a problem or at least a perplexing saying! Two contrasting personality traits. Where it is impossible to be both ‘sly’ and ‘simple’ at the same time. What did Jesus mean by that? We are left groping for some way to relate this to life. Again Charles Hedrick:
“The saying ridicules community wisdom by contrasting different character traits valued in community: shrewdness and prudence, cantor and purity. But when associated with snakes and pigeons… community morals are turned on their ear. Like certain other sayings of Jesus, this oxymoron perplexes and teases but offers no clue how to apply it to life.”

Then there is another teaching style—a parable this time… “An Injured Traveller” (Luke 10:30-35, otherwise known as ‘The Good Samaritan’). Perhaps the most famous of all parables,
generally speaking this is a story about some ‘bad’ blokes, another of their Judean tribe beaten half to death, and at least one ‘good, compassionate’ bloke. And that good bloke is a mortal ‘enemy’ called Samaritan! Here again it is simplistic to avoid the complexity. There is the claim that Samaritans are in fact Jews from the remnants of the Northern Jewish Kingdom of Israel as opposed to Judah.

Everyone knows, so it is reckoned, what it means, including our anonymous storyteller who adds an answer: Who is my neighbour? But this turns the parable into an example story. And forfeits the parable’s challenge to re-imagine the world anew. Progressive scholars say this is the wrong question/answer mix. A parable challenges neat and common garden-variety answers. Turns our world and answers upside down. The real question/answer is: Whom will I allow to be my neighbour? And an honest answer to that question, just might really surprise us.

What we do know is how others used his oral saying and stories. They are called Gospels.
But perhaps surprisingly, we do not know how Jesus used them. Oral storytellers don’t leave books or TV documentaries! And then they are only fragments spiced with humour.

On reflection then, it seems reasonably clear he dealt generally “in sweeping unrealistic challenges to daily life … His sayings would have provoked questions with no definitive answers and his stories would have raised issues with no stated solutions.”

Rex Hunt tells of a time when he and a couple of his colleagues appeared on the ABC TV religion program ‘Compass’. His opposing colleagues were very strong on a Christianity based on creeds, doctrine, and tradition. And where the Bible is a rule book for life. A so-called ‘confessional’ theology. And where Jesus is important because he died.

Rex, on the other hand, tried to suggest, equally as strong, that the way we are ‘Christian’ is in having trust with Jesus, not trust in Jesus. Not ‘belief’, even though what we believe is important, but as ‘way’, as ‘trust’, walking without fear, daring to engage in and be surprised by, life. If we can rescue Jesus he says; from the cloying baggage of heavy Christological beliefs then “we are freed to go on the journey that Jesus chartered rather than to worship the journey of Jesus”.

A so-called ‘progressive’ theology. And where Jesus is important because he lived. The difference is profound. “It is finished” is less about the transition from human to supernatural and more about the completion of the story and the subsequent release from a violent empirical Reign or Way and the discovery of a New Reign or way of being and doing life. So this day, Christ the King Day in traditional language, or the Reign of Christ Day in a bit of a modern edit, really is a call for an ongoing conversation about how we see Jesus and how we see Christianity. I would like to suggest that we are yet to fully grasp what The Messiah meant in ancient Hebrew culture and thus what the root of Christ is. It brings with it a far more complex and rich meaning that the surname of Jesus and I dare to suggest the Greek translation from Messiah to become ‘Christ: Contrary to the impression fundamentalists and others might make, Christianity has never stood still. It is not a museum. It has always been capable of revision and restatement. Evolution. The Big Bang. Quantum Mechanics. Relativity. Also, in biblical criticism and social action. theology and language. In liturgical renewal.

And we just now need to realise, be it ever so slowly, that Jesus is no longer embalmed in doctrinal winding sheets, that he has slipped ecclesial control and continues his walkabout on this fragile planet. Nature, humanity, the cosmos, family, friendships, politics. There is but one world and we will be drawn together by our common purpose. In our multi-cultural, multi-faith community, such knowledge, such conversations, and such revisions are really important. Ours is to be brave enough to participate in this dynamic living world of serendipitous life as well. Amen.

Galston, D. Embracing the Human Jesus. A Wisdom Path for Contemporary Christianity. Salem. Polebridge Press, 2012
Hedrick, C. W. The Wisdom of Jesus. Between the Sages of Israel and the Apostles of the Church. Eugene. Cascade Books, 2014
Hedrick, C. W. Many Things in Parables. Jesus and his Modern Critics. Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2004
Johnson, E. “Deep Incarnation: Prepare to be Astonished”, UNIFAS Conference, Rio de Janeiro, (7-14 July 2010). <https://sgfp.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/deep-incarnation-prepare-to-be-astonished/&gt; (Accessed 4 October 2016)
Kaufman, G. D. Jesus and Creativity. Minneapolis. Fortress, 2006
Scott, B. B. Re-imagine the World. An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2001
Wink, W. “The Son of Man the Stone that Builders Rejected” in (ed). Jesus Seminar. The Once and Future Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 20


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.