Continuing The Wild Reed’s special 2011 Holy Week series, I share today a seventh excerpt from Albert Nolan’s groundbreaking 1976 book Jesus Before Christianity.
This excerpt is accompanied by images of Enrique Irazoqui as Jesus in Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew.
(To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)
The remarkable thing about the movement inspired by Jesus was that he himself remained the leader and the inspiration of his followers even after his death. Jesus was obviously felt to be irreplaceable. If he died, the movement died. But if the movement continued to live, then it could only be because in some sense or another Jesus continued to live.
. . . [Within the movement he inspired] Jesus was experienced as the breakthrough in the history of humanity. He transcended everything that had ever been said and done before. He was in every way the ultimate, the last word. He was on a par with God. His word was God’s word. His Spirit was God’s Spirit. His feelings were God’s feelings. What he stood for was exactly the same as what God stood for. No higher estimation was conceivable.
To believe in Jesus today is to agree with this assessment of him. We do not need to use the same words, the same concepts or the same titles. We do not need to use titles at all. But if we relegate Jesus and what he stands for to second place in our scale of values, then we have already denied him and what he stands for. What Jesus was concerned with was a matter of life and death, a matter of ultimate importance. Either you accept the “kingdom” as Jesus understood it or you don’t. You cannot serve two “masters.” It is all or nothing. Second place or half measures are tantamount to nothing. To believe in Jesus is to believe that he was divine.
. . . To believe that Jesus is divine is to choose to make him and what he stands for your God. . . . I have chosen this approach because it enables us to begin with an open concept of divinity and to avoid the perennial mistake of superimposing upon the life and personality of Jesus our preconceived ideas about what God is supposed to be like. The traditional image of God has become so difficult to understand and so different to reconcile with the historical facts of Jesus’ life that many people are no longer able to identify Jesus with that God. For many young people today Jesus is very much alive but the traditional God is dead.
By his words and praxis, Jesus himself changed the content of the word “God.” If we do not allow him to change our image of God, we will not be able to say that he is our Lord and our God. To choose him as our God is to make him the source of our information about divinity and to refuse to superimpose upon him our own ideas of divinity.
This is the meaning of the traditional assertion that Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus reveals God to us, God does not reveal Jesus to us. God is not the Word of Jesus, that is to say, our ideas about God cannot throw any light upon the life of Jesus. To argue from God to Jesus instead of arguing from Jesus to God is to put the cart before the horse. This, of course, is what many Christians have tried to do. It has generally led them into a series of meaningless speculations which only cloud the issue and which prevent Jesus from revealing God to us.
We cannot deduce anything about Jesus from what we think we know about God; we must now deduce everything about God from what we do know about Jesus. Thus, when we say that Jesus is divine, we do not wish to add anything to what we have been able to discover about him so far, nor do we wish to change anything that we have said about him. To say now suddenly that Jesus is divine does not change our understanding of Jesus; it changes our understanding of divinity.
– Albert Nolan
Jesus Before Christianity
Jesus Before Christianity
Images: Enrique Irazoqui as Jesus in Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew.
Notes Richard Corliss:
Worlds removed from Hollywood's elephantine Biblical epics, Piero Paolo Pasolini's Il Vangelo secondo Matteo was a low-budget black-and-white pastoral Christian film, made by an atheist Marxist homosexual. Pasolini said he responded to the literary brilliance and narrative propulsion of the Matthew gospel he wanted to show that the greatest story ever told was, among other things, a great story. His dark-haired, dark-eyed, unibrowed Jesus (played by Enrique Irazoqui, a Basque Jew who, like the other performers, was not a professional actor) spits out the parables and prophesies with a brisk ferocity, like a union organizer with a spiel to finish before the end of the lunch break. He is testy with his inquisitors and abrupt with his Apostles. He's a man-God in a hurry to fulfill his mission. Sooner dead, sooner resurrected.
NEXT: To Believe in Jesus
For The Wild Reed’s 2010 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Andrew Harvey’s book Son of Man: The Mystical Path to Christ), see:
Jesus: Path-Blazer of Radical Transformation
The Essential Christ
One Symbolic Iconoclastic Act
One Overwhelming Fire of Love
The Most Dangerous Kind of Rebel
Resurrection: Beyond Words, Dogmas and All Possible Theological Formulations
The Cosmic Christ: Brother, Lover, Friend, Divine and Tender Guide
For The Wild Reed’s 2009 Holy Week series (featuring the artwork of Doug Blanchard and the writings of Marcus Borg, James and Evelyn Whitehead, John Dominic Crossan, Andrew Harvey, Francis Webb, Dianna Ortiz, Uta Ranke-Heinemann and Paula Fredriksen), see:
The Passion of Christ (Part 1) – Jesus Enters the City
The Passion of Christ (Part 2) – Jesus Drives Out the Money Changers
The Passion of Christ (Part 3) – Last Supper
The Passion of Christ (Part 4) – Jesus Prays Alone
The Passion of Christ (Part 5) – Jesus Before the People
The Passion of Christ (Part 6) – Jesus Before the Soldiers
The Passion of Christ (Part 7) – Jesus Goes to His Execution
The Passion of Christ (Part 8) – Jesus is Nailed the Cross
The Passion of Christ (Part 9) – Jesus Dies
The Passion of Christ (Part 10) – Jesus Among the Dead
The Passion of Christ (Part 11) – Jesus Appears to Mary
The Passion of Christ (Part 12) – Jesus Appears to His Friends
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Why Jesus is My Man
Jesus Was a Sissy
The "Wild Gaiety" of Jesus' Moral Teaching
Jesus, Sex and Power
Jesus and Homosexuality
Jesus and the Centurion (Part 1)
Jesus and the Centurion (Part 2)
Revisiting a Groovy Jesus (and a Dysfunctional Theology)
When Expulsion is the Cost of Discipleship
Christ and Krishna
The Wounded and Risen Christ