Friday, January 16, 2015

God, the Christ, and the Maleness of Jesus

Sculpture of the Christa
at Emmanuel College, University of Toronto
As a Christian, I am by definition a follower of Jesus the Christ. With Peter, I confess him to be the Christ/Messiah and the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16).  Whatever else I might believe, it is filtered through this confession.

When speaking of Jesus I have in mind a particular person who hailed from the Galilean village of Nazareth and was born and lived and died as a Jewish man.  He lived in a particular part of the world in a very specific age in history. His cultural and social realities were very different from my own.  Despite the differences in culture and context, I look to him for a revelation of who God might be.  After all, John declares that the Word of God has taken on flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).  

As I'm considering the question of the ways in which we speak of God (for we cannot fully know God in God's essence, which is mystery), I have to take into consideration the images and analogies that we use to speak of the unspeakable.  One of the questions that the particularity of Jesus' human identity poses to us is whether his maleness is a reflection on the nature of God.  

When we confess Jesus to be Lord and Savior of the World, we have in mind his humanity, which is expressed as a first century Jewish male.  But is it his maleness or his humanity that is most revelational of the Christ of God?

Again turning to Elizabeth A. Johnson, who is proving to be quite helpful in this journey, let us consider the impact of an excessive emphasis on Jesus' maleness.  She writes:

The Christian story of salvation involves not only God's compassionate will to save but also the method by which this becomes effective, namely, by God's plunging into sinful human history and transforming it from within. The early Christian aphorism "What is not assumed is not redeemed, but what is assumed is saved by union with God" sums up the insight that God's saving solidarity with all humanity is what is crucial for the birth of the new creation. Et homo factus est: thus does the Nicene creed confess the universal relevance of the incarnation by the use of the inclusive homo. But if in fact what is meant is et vir factus est, with stress on sexual manhood, if maleness is essential for the christic role, then women are cut out of the loop of salvation, for female sexuality is not taken on by the Word made flesh. If maleness is constitutive for the incarnation and redemption, female humanity is not assumed and therefore not saved. [She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discoursep. 153]
For some church leaders must be male, because Jesus is male, and therefore God is somehow male.  But what if we recognize that the scandal of particularity that is present in Jesus is mitigated by the mystery of God who encompasses male and female as the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and could just as easily have incarnated as a woman.  Context may have determined the choice, but not the possibilities.

Can we then, speak not only of the Christus, but also the Christa? As you consider the question might you ponder the sculpture pictured in this post?

2 comments:

Steve Kindle said...

Johnson writes, "'What is not assumed is not redeemed, but what is assumed is saved by union with God' sums up the insight that God's saving solidarity with all humanity is what is crucial for the birth of the new creation." Does this mean that incarnation saves (universalism), or atonement saves (particular people)?
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If the maleness of Jesus counts for a revelation of God's being, how about the rest of Jesus? Is God 5'4" tall? Does God have olive skin? Is God Jewish?
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For me, the value of a female Jesus is that it calls us to consider the feminine side of God. As you say, Jesus could have come as a woman, given another time and place.

John McCauslin said...

That the Incarnation manefested as a man is just as likely an indictment of the misogyny of first century humanity as it is a recommendation for male priesthood or for male dominated power structures.

We understand and believe as Christians that Jesus appearance in that particular time and place was not a random occurrence but that his appearance was an intentional intrusion of God into this world. The implication that I draw from the maleness of the Incarnation is that First Century humanity was not prepared to embrace on any level a female incarnation. This conclusion is admittedly a reflection of my own awareness of the misogyny present in today's society as well as the misogyny prevalent to a far greater degree in the First Century. To draw the inference from the maleness of the Incarnation that therefore God intended to recommend a male-dominated, if not an all-male priesthood or to infer by Jesus' maleness that God intended to affirm existing male dominated power structures is no more likely, and probably much less likely than the conclusion I choose to draw.

My inference arises from my understanding that the core mission of the Incarnation was empowerment of the marginalized (Beatitudes) and no part of Jesus' mission was directed at affirming existing power structures. To conclude that Jesus' maleness was intended to affirm male power structures is to turn everything Jesus said on its head.