Jesus Versus Jesus
believe that in many if not in most cases the stories and sayings of Jesus
in the gospels are really based on the prototypes of wandering Christian
apostles and prophets in the early church. Their deeds and words have been
attributed to the Lord Jesus in whose name they acted and spoke. And
eventually the line between them and the Son of Man whom they claimed to
represent has become completely blurred.
So as likely as not
a saying attributed to Jesus was originally the utterance of someone else
"channeling" the Risen Christ. A prophecy, in other words. When the gospel
text says, "Jesus said..." I view it as equivalent to when the Old
Testament text has Jeremiah or Isaiah begin an oracle, "Thus says the
The first of the
sayings occurs in Mark 9:40, "John said to him, 'Master, we saw a man
casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him because he was not
following us.' But Jesus said, 'Do not forbid him; for no one who does a
miracle in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he
that is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:38-40).
But over in Luke
11:23, Jesus is rebutting charges that he casts out demons only as a show,
that in fact he is a magician in league with the devil. "He who is
not with me is against me, and he who does not
gather with me scatters," says Jesus.
Which way is
it? Are you counted as being on Jesus' side if you do not actively oppose
and reject him? That seems to be the implication of Mark. Or is it as Luke
has it? That if you do not "stand up, stand up for Jesus," you are
implicitly and unwittingly leaguing yourself against
him? We must see what sense we can make of these warring sayings.
level, the solution is simple: the two sayings stem from two rival
Jesus-prophets who differed as much as Jeremiah and his opposite number Hananiah had in the sixth century BC. Both posed as spokesmen for Jehovah,
but their messages were diametrically opposed.
What are the
theological implications of this difference of inspired opinion? We have
dueling Jesuses, and we must decide which, if either, we will serve.
Once I heard
Hans Kung give a lecture in which he effectively proof-texted Jesus as
being firmly in his corner, painting him as pretty much a situational
ethicist and a humanist. His Jesus was much like Dostoeyevski's Jesus in
The Grand Inquisitor. As he spoke, I thought that, though Kung didn't
have to twist any texts to get the result he wanted, he had ignored or
been blind to a very different
raft of texts where the gospels depict Jesus in a very different light.
Did Jesus tell us
that human need takes precedence over the Sabbath rules? Yes, but then
there is that text in which he crushes women beneath the mailed fist of
the divorce prohibition.
Does he welcome
despised Gentiles? In Luke and John, yes. But in Matthew he tells his
missionaries not to set foot in Samaria. Was he a precursor of feminism?
Then why no women among the Twelve?
You get the
picture. We must decide which Jesus we are going to follow, because they
are Legion. Hans Kung had decided which Jesus he was going to follow.
the utterances of the two Jesuses. Each seems to say that there is no
neutrality. Only the one Jesus excludes all who are not explicitly
committed to him, his name, his cause. "Whoever is not with me is against
me." Do you see what has happened here? Why is it not enough simply to
agree with the moral agenda or the religious principles of Jesus? Most
Pharisees probably did!
Why do the Pharisees
come in for such a pasting in the gospels? Because they committed the one
unforgivable sin in the eyes of this Jesus and those who created him: they
did not believe in Jesus himself as
being more important than his principles, his teachings.
For Christians it no
longer mattered what Jesus said so much as that it was he, the Son of God,
the Christ, the Superstar, who had said it. As Judas says in Jesus
Christ Superstar, "You've begun to matter more
than the things you say."
Suppose you heard
Jesus denounce hypocrisy and uphold unconditional love, the Fatherhood of
God and the infinite value of the human soul, and this you accepted
whole-heartedly. But then someone asked you whether you thought Jesus of
Nazareth were the promised Messiah. That's a rather different matter,
isn't it? How could you form an opinion? Why should you have to? And if
you did, what would it add to what you had learned from Jesus?
What is attributed
to Jesus here in Luke is a kind of summons to discipleship. Like
that earlier Jesus, the Joshua of the Old Testament, this one is throwing
down the gauntlet: Choose! Not to decide is to decide! Not to
decide for me is to decide against me!
I'm sorry, but I
don't buy it. Have you ever heard the joke "I wouldn't want to join any
club that would have someone like me as a member"? Well, sorry, Jesus
Number One: I wouldn't want to join a group that would only attract me if
I were a religious bigot. If the price of joining the club is to condemn
all non-members to hell, I don't think that's the kind of club I want to
So, ironically, it
is the very summons to join up that repels me from the group! Now what
about Jesus Number Two? The Jesus of Mark 9 makes no summons for anyone to
join. Instead he acts the shepherd
to go retrieve the lone lamb that John had driven forth from the flock!
This is interesting to me: John tells Jesus that the unknown exorcist had
not been following Jesus and the disciples. So to John he seemed to be
poaching, violating the disciples' copyright on the name of Jesus. It is
obvious that John considered the man a non-member. But it is equally
apparent that the exorcist himself did not think himself a member either.
He seems to
have accepted John's right to forbid him. For him the name Jesus simply
seemed a powerful incantation for use in his profession. He was exactly
like the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19 who have appropriated the divine
name of Jesus because Paul seems to get results with it. Like a comedian
who steals a good joke from a colleague.
Have you ever
wondered why John did not rather invite the exorcist to join the
group of followers of Jesus? He doesn't even say he asked the man and that
the man refused. We might put this down to the motif of the
thick-headedness of the disciples, but that will not do. For Jesus does
not suggest that the man should have joined up either!
And that is the
great point: as far as Jesus is concerned, the man does not need to
join! Since he is doing the work that Jesus does, he is already a
member! As the Epistle of James says, "I will show you my faith by my
works." Jesus has drawn a circle that counts him in. Here is the liberal
Jesus, Kung's Jesus, Karl Rahner's Jesus, in whose eyes one may be as
Christian as one needs to be even if one's faith is anonymous or wears
another name altogether. If he is not against us, he is for us.
Jesus we hear no invitation to join up, no summons to decide. No, what we
hear is that such an explicit joining is superfluous, altogether
unnecessary. What an irony! This non-summons, this non-invitation, is far
more attractive, much more winsome than the Olympian ultimatum of Jesus
Number One! Though he has not required you to join him, this very openness
makes you think that maybe it would not be a bad thing to follow this
Jesus! If this is a possible version of Christianity, maybe I can be (or
remain) a Christian after all!
And there is a third
Jesus to be heard from. We hear his voice in the Book of Revelation. He
says, "I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you
were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot,
I will spew you out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16). Here is an amazing
thing! A Jesus who goes even farther, who rejects only the complacent
Christian! It is the lukewarm disciple he cannot stomach.
It is no surprise
that he would rather have the lukewarm become hot, fervent in their
commitment. But how can it be that he prefers the cold? Is it perhaps
possible that he yields the rejector of Christianity a certain measure of
grudging respect? Could it be that he recognizes in the Christ-rejector a
seeker after truth? Don't tell me Jerry Falwell is more acceptable to
Jesus than Betrand
Russell! If he is, then I will tell you I prefer Bertrand Russell to
Suppose one is,
suppose you are, a seeker after truth who pointedly does not follow
Jesus and his church? Christians may, like John, forbid you because they
think Christians have the exclusive copyright on the name of Truth. But
no, even if you do not follow with the church, even if relative to
Christianity you are cold, perhaps Jesus prefers
you, considers you one of his flock. How? Because you invoke the name of
Truth, and he answers to that name as well.
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