I feel as though I stirred things up a little at the Bible study Wednesday night.
We were reading Mark 12, where Jesus tells the Parable of the Tenants, matches wits the Herodians and Pharisees over taxes, matches wits with the Sadducees on the question of the Resurrection, and then presents his teaching on the Golden Rule. It’s an eventful chapter, and there’s more that happens in it if you want to read for yourself. We barely even scratched the surface of the passage.
Tom — he’s the study leader — made a comment that Jesus finally is dealing plainly with his mission and identity, and is no longer being cryptic about who he is. And being me, I had to share some of the conclusions I’ve been reaching about Jesus’ divinity and humanity, namely that Jesus himself has only recently begun to understand the full extent of the Suffering Messiah, and that they’re going to kill him .
Not surprisingly, this wasn’t immediately acclaimed and accepted, and I had to deal with some serious pushback that I was undermining the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. (Tom himself noted that while he disagrees with me, he also sees a lot of support for the position and has no problem with it.)
My basic contention is that there are several points in the gospels — particularly the Synoptic gospels — where Jesus has a Eureka moment that make him change direction. The big one, of course, is his time in the wilderness, which concludes with an appearance by ha-Satan and the threefold temptation. Jesus rejects those temptations, which deal with placing earthly needs before heavenly ones, acquiring certainty rather than faith, and obtaining earthly political sovereignty at the cost of spiritual integrity, but there are plenty of smaller Eureka moments. One is after he has had a tremendous healing ministry at the start of Mark, and then skips town; and another comes later, when he heals the daughter of a Syro-Phoenician woman and then expands his work to include Gentiles. The gospels usually note these moments are preceded by periods of prayer.
The temptations in the wilderness are the cipher to the rest of Jesus’ life. We often read Mark and Luke’s accounts as though Jesus were tempted once, and then that was it; it’s a better interpretation to see them as setting the template for the rest of his life and ministry, or marking the tone for things he will continue to resist and avoid up until the Crucifixion. His fate is already set long before he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, but I think now he is understanding exactly what it means.
The other challenge to my assertion came in the area of Jesus’ miracles. Even if we accept only a fraction of the miracles attributed to Jesus as legitimate, they’re pretty amazing things: resurrections, healings, excorcisms, weather changing at command, withered limbs restored. So I wasn’t too surprised when a few people argued that Jesus’ miracles were evidence of his divinity — and probably it was about equally as unsurprising when I was unmoved by their counterarguments.
Miracles are a common motif in the prophetic tradition of Judaism after all; even resurrections had precedent. (Elijah and Elisha each is credited with raising to life the son of widow they had been staying with.) In fact, when Jesus asked his disciples who the people said he was, Peter rattled off a list of prophets: “Some say Elijah, some say Jeremiah; others say one of the other prophets.” And Jesus himself says his followers would perform everything that he has done, and greater miracles still. So the miracles aren’t evidence of his divinity either — they’re merely evidence that he was walking in faith with God.
His own Resurrection, though, is evidence, because it was the Infinite that lay hidden within him that raised him up to new life. And unlike the others — the widows’ sons, the daughter of Jairus, and even Lazarus — who all presumably grew old and died some day, Jesus never died a second time, but lives eternally. That resurrection is the basis for our faith, that and that alone.
So it was an interesting and sometimes intense discussion, if for no other reason than I was calling into question the beliefs that other people have regarding Christ.