Jesus and the Scandal of Particularity

Today my church study group -- Theology 101 -- will look at the person of Jesus. As Christians we ask the question -- who is Jesus? That is a question rooted in the gospels itself. Jesus asked the disciples -- who are the people saying that I am? The disciples gave all number of answers, and then Jesus asked -- well who do you say that I am? And Peter answered in famous tones:

You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Mt. 16:16).
After that bold confession, Jesus goes on (in Matthew) to give Peter the keys to the kingdom, or so it seems.

What that confession does is place Jesus at the center of the conversation. As Christians, we are followers of Jesus, the one who is the Messiah and who is Lord. If you've read John Dominic Crossan or Marcus Borg, you know that the titles of Jesus have political connotations. That is, the early Christians were making political statements by suggesting that Jesus was Lord and Son of God -- for these were titles given to the emperor.

There is another aspect to this conversation and that has to do with the scandal of particularity. That is, if Jesus is as Colossians suggests "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15), does his gender or ethnicity have some definitiveness to it? Could God have been just as easily incarnated as a woman? Or some other ethnicity?

On the second issue, we must be careful, because over time anti-Semitism did creep into Christian conversations, and Jesus' Jewishness was diminished. That has been restored.

But as for the maleness -- what does it say about Jesus, about God, and about humanity?

Elizabeth Johnson, a Christian feminist theologian, writes:

The gender of Jesus has been taken to be the mode or paradigm of what it means to be human. This is interpreted literally to mean that maleness is closer to the human idea than is femaleness. Proof of this attitude can be seen in reactions to the hypothetical question about the incarnation. The Word became flesh: God who is beyond gender became a human being. Could God have become a human being as a woman? The question strikes some people as silly or worse. Theologically, though, the answer is Yes. Why not? If women are genuinely human and if God is the deep mystery of holy love, then what is to prevent such an incarnation? But taking for granted the implicitly inferiority of women, Christian theology has dignified maleness as the only genuine way of being human, thus making Jesus' embodiment as male an ontological necessity rather than a historical option. (Elizabeth Johnson, Consider Jesus, Crossroad, 1990, p. 107).

So, if Jesus reveals God to us -- how do we take his maleness?

Note on the picture -- this statue of the crucified woman by Almut Lutkenhaus-Lackey is found in the garden at Emmanuel College, University of Toronto.


John said…
jibreaJesus appeared in context, the context of the human race, and within the context of the Nation of Israel, the first nation to worship the One God.

His gender may have been a coin toss, but somehow I don't see God missing an opportunity to accomplish something by choice of gender. I do not think God was seeking to lift up maleness as normative for being human (or for human beings), or for being a disciple of God.

Following the comments of Elizabeth Johnson, that "God is the deep mystery of holy love," I placed that thought together with my own personal biological observations, that the female is typically the nurturer, the lover, and often the one who serves most selflessly.

The possibility comes to mind that Jesus, as the incarnation of holy love, came in male flesh to show that maleness is not incompatible with love, and nurture, and service. His appearance as a man perhaps was meant to teach men the need to balance their aggressiveness with the divine call for love, nurture, kindness and compassion.

Anonymous said…
Glad you have this chance to finish your thought John. I think if Jesus was a woman, we would have never heard of him. Yes, definitely the only context for that time, or this time I’m afraid to say. Maybe there was a divine female on earth, who knows?

I this true? "the first nation to worship the One God."

Anyway, a thought too silly for a captive audience, but here you can skip it...If you look at it genetically (hypothetically of course) and assume God wouldn’t clone himself or such- Jesus could have been made flesh as a man in order to leave the 1/4 of her X chromosome in paradise or wherever.

It would follow that if God became incarnate, whole if you will, as a woman, then heaven would have been void of God entirely.

You can bet those un-fallen angels would not mess with God's remaining I chromosome!

I thought your partner might find it ammusing.

Come on, I only had one beer. Oh, I forgot about the paint fumes. David Mc
Anonymous said…
I think if Jesus was a woman, we would have never heard of him.

oops, make that her.
John said…

Genetically speaking, you're a goof! No one else but a scientist could have come up with something like that.

But taking your thought in a different direction, by coming to earth as an XY, God in some sense chose to pursue his earthly mission in a form which was less complete than an XX - which should tell us that even if we are less than whole, we are sufficient to God's purposes.

And we are all less than whole.

Anonymous said…
Yeah, but you can't prove I'm a goof (wrong). That extra "I" is all that separates man and woman.

Didn't God say I am what I is?
Popeye too. A woman without all the baggage. I'm convinced most all our ideas are wrong. David Mc
John said…
I like to think God told Moses: "I will become what I will become" which is often translated as "I am what I am."

The "becoming" conveys this aspect of dynamism which I think is often overlooked by those who imagine God as fixed and unchanging. I think such people view the fixed nature as consistent with God's nature which they understood as being whole and complete.

But in Hebrew the given name conveys a sense of forward happening, of becoming, of God self-choosing what God will become. With that in mind I think it necessary to include within God's nature an aspect of dynamism. That leads to the conclusion that completeness must include an element of dynamism, or otherwise the notion that God is complete must be jettisoned from our appreciation of God's nature.

Why should we imagine God as complete or fixed when all that God has created is dynamic, incomplete and unfinished - but each component of creation contains within itself the aspect of movement, growth, or at least change. No portion of creation is stable or fixed.

Is this not a self disclosure from God. There is no "completion," there is no absolute certainty in creation, just estimations, and approximations, some notions provisionally valid for the moment, but always subject to what comes next, or awaiting the impact of what came before - time, space and energy always playing catch-up and leap-frog.

And, to return full circle to where this discussion began, in the grand scheme of creation is not gender identification provisional as well?

I'm just sayin'....

Anonymous said…
I like to think God told Moses: "I will become what I will become" which is often translated as "I am what I am."

You like to think? Is this a true mistranslation? If it is, I certainly like that one better!

There are always changes, obviously, that's how God re-arranges.

I was thinking hermaphrodite, but decided not to bring it up. Not that there's anything wrong with that...David Mc
John said…
The footnote in NRSV version reads: Or "I Am what I Am" or "I will be what I will be."

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