Thursday, May 15, 2014

Sketching Jesus

Biblical scholar Gregory C. Jenks participated in the Jesus Seminar, organized by Robert Funk when he retired as Executive Director of the Society of Biblical Literature. Comprised of more than 80 scholars, the Jesus Seminar sought to find the historical Jesus, the man whose life and teachings proved so magnetic and powerful that they were the catalysts for the emergence of Christianity.

The following points are from a presentation by Jenks in a public debate with the Anglican Bishop of North Sydney in Brisbane, Australia, on December 9, 1998, "Behind and Beyond the Jesus Seminar: Implications for Christian discipleship." Jenks is summarizing Funk's book, Honest to Jesus, which itself summarizes the work of the Jesus Seminar.

1. Jesus appears to have been an itinerant sage who delivered his parables and aphorisms in public and private venues for both friends and opponents in return for food and drink.

2. He never claimed to be (nor allowed others to call him) the Messiah or a divine being.

3. Jesus taught a wisdom that emphasised a simple trust in God's unstinting goodness and the generosity of others. Life was to be lived and celebrated without boundaries and without thought for the future. He rejected asceticism.

4. Ritual ceremonies had no value. Purity taboos and social barriers were never allowed to come between the people who responded to God and one another in simple trust.

5. There were no religious "brokers" in Jesus' vision of God's domain. No priests, no prophets, no messiahs. Not even Jesus himself was to be inserted between a person and God.

6. To experience forgiveness one simply had to offer forgiveness to others.

7. No theological beliefs served as a test for participation in God's domain.

8. Apocalyptic speculation with future punishments for the wicked and rewards for the virtuous played no part in Jesus' teaching.

9. Jesus was killed because he refused to compromise this radical vision of life. Those defending the status quo with its elaborate brokerage system for religious favours had to destroy him or lose their hold over others.

While more recent summaries of research about the historical Jesus are available (for example, Marcus Borg's The Heart of Christianity), Funk's summary is worth considering. The summary provides a useful overview—a broad-brush picture—of who Jesus was, something that is too often lost because we tend to focus in reading, preaching, and teaching on small passages, parables, and incidents. This was Funk's motivation for launching the Jesus Seminar and for writing his biography of Jesus.

If you were to try to sketch, in outline form, a portrait of Jesus as you see him, what 5-10 points would comprise your sketch?

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