Thinking Anew – A universal and timeless significance
An image of Christ in the Aya Sofya, Istanbul. Getty Images
The English writer Richard Ingrams will be remembered by Irish readers as the author of the foreword to The Ulick O’Connor Diaries: 1970-1981. Among his many other publications is a book called Authors Take Sides, an anthology of the reflections of well-known writers on Jesus Christ – some positive, some negative. George Bernard Shaw, for example, was not overly impressed: “It is quite clear from the Gospel narrative that Jesus connived at his own death in the belief that he would rise again . . . History has not confirmed his belief.”
Conan Doyle thought differently: “But the wonderful thing is that by devious paths we have got back to Christianity once more and that the Christ figure appears more beautiful and understandable as ever, He has ceased to be a miracle. He has become our friend and brother.”
What is interesting about the book is the common acceptance of the goodness of the man Jesus, his life and his teaching. This probably represents the view of many today who relate easily to this down-to-earth man who the Bible tells us “went about doing good”; they admire him as such but may not be too sure about anything beyond that.
St Paul, who is remembered for his dramatic conversion experience on the road to Damascus, began writing his epistles about 20 years after the death of Jesus and, it is worth saying, before the earliest gospel. In these letters he very often uses the name/title Christ rather than Jesus. It is as if for him Jesus died and Christ rose; a way of saying that there is much more to the Jesus story than we might think; that what was revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus who is also the Christ is not confined to first-century Palestine but is of universal and timeless significance.
His letter to the Colossians which provides tomorrow’s epistle reading implies that “our” Jesus is too small; that the one we are comfortable with as Jesus of Nazareth is in fact the Cosmic Christ:
“He (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him.”
In other words, he is not a denominational or cultural Christ, not a Christ domesticated by any church; nor is he defined by what humans say about him or want him to be; he is God in action.
Tomorrow’s Gospel reading makes the same point: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
It is difficult to express the Jesus/Christ relationship in simple language, but could it be otherwise?
We are grappling with profound mystery beyond words and beyond human understanding.
Brother Roger of the Taizé community acknowledged the difficulty: “Together with the whole people of God, from all over the world, you are invited to live a life exceeding all your hopes. On your own, how could you ever experience the radiance of God’s presence? God is too dazzling to be looked upon. He is a God who blinds our sight. It is Christ who channels this consuming fire and allows God to shine through without dazzling us. Christ is present, close to each one of us, whether we know him or not. He is so bound up with us that he lives within us, even when we are unaware of him. He is there in secret, a fire burning in his heart, a light in the darkness. But Christ is also someone other than yourself. He is alive; he stands beyond, ahead of you. Here is his secret: he loved you first. That is the meaning of your life: to be loved forever, loved to all eternity , . .”