The Essay follows the Poem
A Poem by Phillip Michael Garner
A little light Lord for the darkness around me
A little light Lord for the pain inside me
A little relief from the constant incessant battering of suffering
I am not as strong because love is my weakness
I am not as strong because hope holds me
I am bound by the truth of eternity
I cleanse my thoughts and weigh my soul
Grace has fled
All around me is immaturity and arrogance
Even my own have disposed of me
I love, only to receive rejection
I give and receive less than nothing
Where are you Lord?
I am not a fool
I understand more than my peers
I have sat at the feet of the learned
I have wept before you - for you have been my teacher
Thoughts of you fill me always yet the terror of your absence overwhelms
I am old now
Is there no sweetness for the aged?
My back is weak and my strength gone
Is there no love for the aged?
I have given to the poor
I have wrestled with untruth
I have protected the weak and walked with the rejected
My emotions fail – yet I go on
In Pursuit of being like Jesus
Let's consider the pursuit of Jesus. First, it is the work of the Spirit to conform us to the image of God in Christ. The exemplary model of Jesus' life was affirmed in the resurrection. So, we are all supposed to live a life that exhibits 'God in us' to the world. Although Jesus was 'monogenes' (only begotten) he lived a human life and his favorite self-appellation was 'son of man' (the human being). I like to say that God became a human being without exception. So, it is true to say Jesus was unique as a human being because the life in him was not created but was the very life (word, wisdom, manifested truth) of God. It is also true to say that the incarnation is a mystery for we can contemplate the incarnation, but we cannot fully explain it.
With this all in mind, we must press a little further in order to answer the questions. There is only one Jesus Christ the Lord and he was the only human being who was or ever will be God incarnate. Jesus’ task was to reveal God to humanity within the confines of a human life, as a human being, limited like all of us. We have all been given the task to reveal God to others; it is the same task that Jesus was given. Yet, the formation of Jesus’ life was watched over by God in a different way than most (if not) all of us.[i] Jesus’ awareness of God came at an early age. Stories of his birth would have been part of his identity formation as a child. His Jewish heritage and mother also contributed to the formation of his self (identity).
So, I would answer that none of us should put the burden on our souls of becoming anymore than a human being like Jesus. Consider that Jesus’ miracles were signs to bring attention to his person (life and teaching) without them he would have just been another teacher. So, the work of Jesus is not miracles but living a life that pleased God, and revealed God to humanity.
Briefly, it is important to connect the death of the firstborn in the Exodus Passover to Jesus’ death in order to grasp the distinctive difference in Jesus’ revealing of God.[ii] First, we are not all called to die as Jesus died. Although if we live close enough to the Spirit of Christ the chances of our being murdered by political and religious authorities to the applause of a mob are increased.
The Exodus story is God’s self revealing through acts that have not been repeated.[iii] This is instructive; in the Exodus, God’s self-revealing was won at the cost of the death of the firstborn (both human and animal). This act, though free from violence (there was no bloodshed, nor suffering, nor weapons), is understood to be at the will or hand of God; the death of the firstborn is done in order to liberate humanity from itself (from oppressive rule) and halt the Pharoah’s intention to kill Moses, an act that would include slaughtering many slaves if not all). After the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh entered into a war with God. War is madness or else Pharaoh would not have followed the Slaves into the sea! The death of the firstborn won the release of the slaves but the powers of oppression could not live without slaves and made war against the God who parts the seas!
God is not violent, nor does God kill human beings in acts of violence (death is God’s enemy). Yet, God took the life of the firstborn, not with violence of any kind, they just ceased to live, they died. In the Passover God participates in the death of human beings in order to release the oppressed slaves. On the cross God allows humanity to kill him (of course death could not hold him). So, the death of Jesus is an act of love, according to John 3:16. God loves us so much that God will let us kill him but will not kill us (the Exodus demonstrates that power is not sufficient for God to reveal God’s self). However, the death of God on a cross (because of the resurrection) is sufficient to reveal all we need to know and learn from the life of Jesus.[iv]
We are not called to be Jesus; we are called to reveal (to others) God in us. The ‘us’ being our distinct human life, and all of us are different. Wherever your story begins, with all its blessing and pain, each of us has the potential to grow into an exemplar for all that it means to be a child of God!
[i] Considering the formation of the life of Jeremiah the prophet is beneficial for understanding God’s participation in the identity formation of a person. The call narratives of chapter one (noted as a mature reflection) along with the history of the Priests at Anathoth are helpful for knowing Jeremiah.
[ii] I write more extensively on this subject in my book Theological Adventures.
[iii] In my book Interpretive Adventures a chapter is dedicated to reading the Exodus narrative (specifically the plagues) and finding God in the acts of mercy more than the acts of power.
[iv] If God were to appear in God’s transcendence we would receive nothing. It is in the use of language, in the stories of Israel, in wisdom, that we search for God. It is in the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus that God is revealed sufficiently to make humanity responsible to this truth we call good news.