Just Who is This Jesus Person, and Who Does He Think He is?

'Jesus Cleanses the Temple,' Otto Elliger. (1700) from Pitts Theological Library, Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta (Georgia); used w/o permission.

James E. Scarborough's and Trekkie4christ's liturgical year pie chart. (2014) via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.Right now, liturgically speaking, we’re in Ordinary Time between Easter and Advent: with Cycle C’s Sunday Masses and Cycle II’s weekday Masses.

Liturgy is important. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1135-1206)

And, although I’d recognize a Catholic Mass anywhere — or anywhen — we’ve found many different ways of celebrating our Lord’s victory over death.1 (Catechism, 1200-1206)

Again, Cycles A, B, C, I and II matter; and so do rules for how we tweak diocesan calendars. But they’re not the most important part of being a Catholic.

Because I’m Catholic — good grief, because I’m human — knowing, loving and serving God is what I’m here for. (Catechism, 1-3, 27-43, 358)

Maybe that sounds overly abstract or theological.

I’ll back up and start another way.

I’m a Catholic, so I follow Jesus of Nazareth.

He’s unique.

That’s inspired artists, with varying results.

“Those Who Followed Were Afraid”??

'Christ Walking on the Sea,' Nathaniel Currier (19th century); from Springfield Museums, used w/o permission.I figure religious art has fashions and fads, like any other genre.

My tastes run more to stuff done by Kramskoi and Tissot.2 So I feel the same way Lewis did, about a particular style that I hope will stay dormant for a while longer:

“…horrible lithographs of the Saviour (apparently seven feet high, with the face of a consumptive girl)….”
(“That Hideous Strength,” Chapter Eleven | Battle Begun, C. S. Lewis (1945)via fadedpage.com)

I understand — make that I hope — that artists who rendered Jesus as a languidly wispy chap were striving for a “spiritual” look.

And that brings me to what started me thinking about perceptions and Jesus this week:

“They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus went ahead of them. They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. Taking the Twelve aside again, he began to tell them what was going to happen to him.”
(Mark 10:32)[emphasis mine]

“…those who followed were afraid…” seems like an odd response to someone who’d inspire “horrible lithographs” of the sort Lewis described.

Coming at it from another direction, though, the crowd’s response to Jesus makes sense; and I’ll get back to that.

Jesus the Nazarene and the Apostles

Antonio Ciseri's 'Ecce homo.' (1871)The important part of that bit from the Gospel of Mark is what Jesus told them about what was going to happen soon.

“‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles
“who will mock him, spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death, but after three days he will rise.'”

That heads-up is in Matthew and Luke, too. (Matthew 20:1719; Luke 18:3133)

After Jesus told them that he’d be executed, the Apostles were puzzled. “Clueless” might be a more appropriate word.

“But they understood nothing of this; the word remained hidden from them and they failed to comprehend what he said.”
(Luke 18:34)

Understanding “nothing of this” was – well, it was understandable. Under the circumstances.

Jesus was, as far as appearance went, some guy who said and did things that drew crowds. And occasionally performed miracles. Sometimes Jesus the Nazarene told stories, or shared sayings like the set we call the Beatitudes. (Matthew 5:312)

The Apostles probably realized that Jesus wasn’t just any celebrity. But I’ve gotten the impression that it took them some time to realize just who and what Jesus is.

From “Hosanna to the Son of David” to “Crucify Him”

'Crucifixion,' detail, Jacopo Tintoretto. (1565)Two millennia later, what Jesus said — well, I won’t say it makes sense to everyone, but most folks in my culture have at least heard about what happened:

“The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying:
”Hosanna to the Son of David;
blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord;
hosanna in the highest.'”
(Matthew 21:89)

“Pilate again said to them in reply, ‘Then what [do you want] me to do with [the man you call] the king of the Jews?’
“They shouted again, ‘Crucify him.'”
(Matthew 21:89)

“At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.
“And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which is translated, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'”
“Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.”
(Mark 15:3334, 37)

Now, finally, back to why I think “those who followed were afraid” makes sense:

“They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus went ahead of them. They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. Taking the Twelve aside again, he began to tell them what was going to happen to him.”
(Mark 10:32)[emphasis mine]

Basically, I suspect that Jesus may have momentarily let his shields down a bit; so that folks in his entourage could be aware that they were walking down the road with God.

It’d be a bit like the event we call the Transfiguration, only not quite so spectacular.

Now, about Jesus the Nazarene being — no kidding — God.

Claiming Divinity

James Tissot's 'The Exhortation to the Apostles (Recommandation aux apôtres).' (ca. 1886-1894) from Brooklyn Museum, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission

Again, Jesus didn’t look weird: or wildly unlike anyone else.

He was, as far as most folks could tell, a celebrity who told stories, did the occasional miracle and two millennia later would sometimes be described as a wise man and good teacher.

So how come “the chief priests with the scribes and elders” were taunting Jesus while he was nailed to a cross, between two criminals?

“‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.
“He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said, “I am the Son of God.”‘”
(Matthew 27:4243)

I don’t — can’t — know what was going on inside their heads. My guess is that they were having conniptions over what Jesus might have done, if he’d played that “hosanna to the Son of David” card. And what the Romans would do to crush the rebellion.

I do know that they toned down what Jesus had said. Never mind “Son of God” — which our Lord had acknowledged that he was (Matthew 16:1617) — Jesus had said, publicly, ‘I am God.’

“Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.’
“So they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.”
(John 8:5859)

“I AM” was God’s response, that time when Moses asked God for a name during the burning bush interview. (Exodus 3:14)

Agreeing with Peter

Naram-Sin cuneiform inscription, from a temple in Marad. (ca. 2250 BC)
(From temple in Marad, Akkadian Empire, via Louvre and Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Cuneiform inscription: Naram-Sin. From a temple in Marad. (ca. 2250 BC)

Ivan Kramskoi's 'Christ in the Wilderness.' (1872) Tretyakov Gallery, via Google Cultural Institute and Wikipedia, used w/o permission.Jesus the Nazarene wasn’t the first person to claim divinity, not by about two and a quarter millennia.

Folks like Naram-Sin of Akkad and François Duvalier claimed divinity for arguably-political motives: these days we call that sort of thing a cult of personality.

As for Aleister Crowley’s Thelema and Ryuho Okawa’s Happy Science:3 for their sakes, I hope Crowley and Okawa really believe what they’ve said; and that’s another topic.

I follow Jesus of Nazareth because I think Peter was right: Jesus, son of Mary, is “the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

The Man Who Said “I AM” and Defeated Death

'The Resurrection of Jesus Christ,' Piero della Francesca. (1463)

I think Peter is right because a few days after Jesus was executed and then buried: he stopped being dead.

It took the surviving disciples some time to get convinced that they weren’t hallucinating or seeing a ghost.

But once they realized that Jesus had changed the game — defeated death — they started sharing the best news humanity’s ever had, with anyone who would listen. (Matthew 28:1620)

The basics are pretty simple.

God loves us, and wants to adopt us. All of us. (Romans 8:15; Ephesians 1:35; Peter 2:34; Catechism, 1-3, 27-30, 52, 1825, 1996)

That sounded good to me, so I took God up on the offer. Although it does mean that now I should act as if the ‘family values’ matter.

Happily, the values, or rules, are simple: love God, love my neighbors, and see everybody as my neighbor. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31 10:2527, 2937; Catechism, 1789)

I said simple, not easy, and that’s yet another topic.

Still Waiting, Still Working

Brian H. Gill's 'Watching.' (2014)Jesus, after a series of meetings with the surviving Apostles, left.

It took two angels to break up the crowd at that last meeting: with an assurance that our Lord would return. (Acts 1:611)

Two millennia later, we’re still waiting for our Lord’s return. Waiting and working. Part of our job is getting things — and ourselves — ready for the big day. (Catechism, 675-677, 849-856, 1021-1022, 1038-1041, 1928-1942, …)

My guess is that we’re not even close to what my culture calls the Second Coming. This place is a mess. And that’s yet again another topic. Topics.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. All the writing I’ve got ready for ‘A Catholic Citizen in America,’ that is. Next week — I’m not sure, actually, what I’ll be writing about.

That phrase, “getting things — and ourselves — ready,” reminded me of topics I haven’t touched on in some time. But deciding what I’ll be doing next week? That’ll wait.

Meanwhile, here’s some of what I’ve said about Jesus and acting like what I believe matters:

1 Liturgy and Saints, very briefly:

2 Two artists:

3 Four people and several bad ideas:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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