LOOSELY CHRISTIAN: THE MANY FACES OF JESUS (Bruce Epperly)
Jesus is a person of history, whose name most of us at least have heard. Most of us have some sense of who he was. And many of us have taken a position regarding who he was and who he is for us. There isn't just one interpretation, even among Christians. But, for Christians he is the definitive presence, the one to whom we look so we might know and experience the presence of God. Bruce Epperly offers us in this post a Progressive Christian vision. You might or might not agree with Bruce, but that's not the point. I invite you to consider who Jesus is, with Bruce's descriptions of the many of Jesus as a point of departure. Perhaps you will experience Jesus anew!
LOOSELY CHRISTIAN: THE MANY FACES OF JESUS
By Bruce Epperly
Jesus is always more than we can imagine. Fully human, he is also the word made flesh and God’s beloved messenger to humankind. Then and now, Jesus as the Christ is lively and multifaceted. He comes to us in many ways, reflecting the richness of God’s love for us.
Jesus is, first of all, a mystical teacher and spirit-person. With Marcus Borg, I see Jesus’ openness to God as the inspiration of our own spiritual journeys. Jesus opens the doors of perception so that we can experience God’s life-changing presence and energy in every situation.
Jesus is the anam cara, the spirit-friend of all, addressing each one of us intimately as God’s beloved child. In encountering Jesus, we experience God’s spirit – and the inner Christ - moving within and through us. Jesus inspires, energizes, and guides people, then and now. Jesus’ mission as ultimate spirit friend is that we become spirit persons ourselves. Jesus’ spirituality goes beyond the dualisms of action and contemplation and justice-seeking and mysticism.
Christ the spirit-person is still alive in the world and our lives. Could Jesus be living in our own personal experiences of God’s nearness? When we cry for a vision, could Jesus be the echoing whisper that shows us our pathway ahead? When we hit bottom, and discover ourselves “standing on the promises” of One we barely know, could it be the Living Christ awakening us to healing and wholeness that transforms weakness into strength and cowardice into courage?
Jesus saw his vocation as a healing companion guided by his experiences of God’s energy of love flowing through all things. Among the world’s great religious leaders, Jesus stands alone in his emphasis on the interdependence of body, mind, spirit, and relationships in health and illness. In first century Judaism, persons with certain diseases were treated as outcasts. They were judged as ritually unclean, and unable to participate in the worship or common life of their communities. When Jesus touched these outcasts – whether persons with skin diseases, mental illnesses, blindness, or gynecological ailments - he invited them to be part of God’s all-inclusive realm of wholeness. Jesus’ touch healed and empowered. His healing energy enabled people to go beyond their social and spiritual limitations. Jesus’ lively touch also cured people in body, mind, and spirit.
When a woman who had been suffering from a gynecological ailment touches Jesus, she experiences a power flowing from him that transforms her cells as well as her soul. Jesus’ presence inspired her faith, enabled her to see herself as well again, and then brought about the physical cure she needed. In an energetic and interdependent God-filled universe, Jesus was a unique and powerful conduit of divine energy. In the case of the woman with the gynecological ailment, Jesus was initially unaware that she in particular touched him. Still, a current of energy burst forth in the synergy of her faith and his dynamism. Could this have been the chi, the energy of universe, described by traditional Chinese medicine? Could this have been the energy that set the universe in motion intensified in the cells of our bodies?
Miracles – quantum leaps of energy that transform cells and souls - happened whenever Jesus showed up. In ways consistent with the deepest laws of nature, Jesus brought healing light to those whom he touched. In an enchanted, God-filled universe, miracles happen, but they are miracles of creative transformation and energetic embodiment residing deeply in all things.
Jesus created circles of healing and transformation. Jesus recognized the concrete limitations of life: he recognized that isolated from divine energy, five loaves and two fish can’t feed a multitude nor can Jairus’ daughter be awakened from a coma – but he did not let human- created limitations place limits on his loving energy. Jesus saw a deeper realism present in the limitations he faced, a realism that included God’s vision of wholeness and the divine energy residing in all things. When others saw death, Jesus experienced the call of resurrection and new life.
For Jesus, healing is about celebrating new life, especially for outcasts, marginalized, and forgotten people. Jairus’ daughter awakens to a good meal. The woman with a gynecological ailment reclaims her role in the community. Perhaps, she even gets married and has a baby! A man possessed by multiple demons – perhaps some form of dissociative disorder – returns home, fully clothed and in his right mind. In the years ahead, he may be a healing partner for people whose mental health issues have alienated them from their communities. A sight impaired man can see his children once again and rejoice in sunrise and sunset in ways others can never fully fathom.
There are no preconditions for healing nor is there any coercion in the healing process. Jesus asks a sight-impaired man, “What do you want me to do for you?” He confronts a man with paralysis with the soul-searching question, “Do you want to be made well?” Healing comes to foreigners as well as neighbors. Jesus taught no specific methodology of healing and this is good news! People’s bodies, minds, spirits, and relationships were transformed by their faith, touch, healing words, welcome, provocative questions, flowing energy, the faith of others, and spittle and mud. Jesus even healed people at a distance, reflecting the intricate ecology characteristic of the energy of love.
In contrast to today’s rock solid, exclusivist Christians, Jesus welcomed healers from other traditions. When the disciples silence another healer because he was not a member of their group, he challenges their exclusive claim to mediate God’s healing touch. Anyone, regardless of background or religious traditions, who is open to becoming a medium of God’s grace can share God’s healing energy, then and now.
Jesus is our model for global healing. Jesus used many healing techniques and so can we. There is no dualism between prayer and medicine, and faith and science. Wherever healing and wholeness are sought –whether through medication or meditation, chemotherapy or contemplation, surgery or supplication, or prayer and Prozac, as my friend Dr. Dale Matthew asserts – God is at work seeking healing and wholeness. Today, we might describe Jesus as a holistic healer or energy worker. However we describe Jesus’ healing ministry, it is clear that he understood healing as a whole person phenomenon – involving the well-being and interdependence of body, mind, spirit, relationships, and social setting. Jesus’ healing ministry allows us to break down the barriers between spirituality and science, and Western technological medicine and complementary medicine.
Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan asserts that magic and meal were at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus healed people by bringing them into his circle of hospitality. Then and now, eating is an intimate experience. To eat with another is to claim them as a companion and friend, despite ethnic, racial, sexual, health, and lifestyle distinctions. When Jesus welcomed people to his table, he accepted them as healthy, whole, and transformed, and so they became. Radically subversive in nature, Jesus’ table fellowship embraced wealthy tax collectors and outcast lepers, righteous Pharisees and women of uncertain reputation, hard workers and prodigals. The magic of the meal was found in the love that enabled Jesus’ companions to see themselves as God saw them – beloved, whole, and powerful – and thus they became. In sharing bread and wine, Jesus nourished their imaginations with healthy soul food that brought forth angels from within the boulders of their lives.
Jesus was a compassionate prophet. While he was often the object of polarization, Jesus’ care embraced friend and foe alike. Embodying God’s own universal love, Jesus proclaimed that the sun and rain fall on both the righteous and unrighteous. God’s center is everywhere, and God’s circumference is nowhere. There are no outsiders in God’s realm of shalom. In the spirit of the Hebraic prophets, Jesus proclaimed an alternative vision of the realm of God, a world fully reflecting God’s vision of justice, compassion, and abundant life for all creation.
Jesus practiced prophetic hospitality, caring as much for those he challenged as those for whom he advocated. Jesus saw God’s presence in those who sought his death, asking God to forgive them for their ignorance and hardheartedness. Jesus’ spirit lives on in movements toward freedom which seek to embrace friend and foe alike.
As a teacher of transformative wisdom through parables, both spoken and lived, Jesus awakened people to new ways of seeing and living. Jesus’ parables invite a quantum leap of consciousness, in which ordinary and socially accepted values are turned upside down. The creative dislocation, characteristic of Jesus’ parables, awakens us to experience great wonders in small beginnings, repentance among sinners and hardheartedness among proper people, and unexpected compassion and surprising neglect. Defying typical logic and prudence, the parables, lived and spoken, challenge us to live Mary Oliver’s spirit-revealing question, “what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
God’s wisdom embodied in the life and teachings of Jesus takes us by surprise, and in the unexpected encounter with parabolic living, we awaken to beauty, love, and wonder. Sleepers awake! See the world with the eyes of a child! Crawl on all fours like an infant for whom every moment is an epiphany! Love boldly, risk boldly, and act wisely to bring healing to the world. As Wendell Berry says, “practice resurrection” daily and hourly, with openness to being reborn with every nanosecond and each encounter.
Christ is still alive today! Jesus promised his followers that they could to greater things. Jesus wants us to prosper, grow, and create. Jesus as the Christ moves humbly through our lives, as one of us, appearing in dreams, hunches, intuitions, transformational moments, and bursts of unexpected energy. Often anonymous, Christ mediates healing and transformation globally as well as personally, working through people and events as well as our own insights.
Christ is on the loose! Christ comes to us – transforming us - when we loosen up, letting go of our tightly-held images of God and ourselves so we can experience the joyful surprises of Christ’s resurrection life.
 Adapted from Loosely Christian: Answering God’s Invitation to Creative Faith for Today (Bondfire Books, 2013)
 Mary Oliver, “A Summer Day.”
 Wendell Berry, “Manifesto – The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”
Bruce Epperly is pastor of South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Centerville, MA. A resident of Cape Cod, Bruce has previously served on the faculty – or on an administrative or ministerial capacity – at Georgetown University, Wesley Theological Seminary, Lancaster Theological Seminary, and Claremont School of Theology. The author of twenty seven books in spirituality, ministry, healing and wholeness, and process theology, his most recent books are Letters to My Grandson: Gaining Wisdom from a Fresh Perspective and Loosely Christian: Answering God's Invitation to a Creative Faith for Today.