Continuing The Wild Reed’s special 2011 Holy Week series, I share today a third excerpt from Albert Nolan’s groundbreaking 1976 book Jesus Before Christianity. This particular excerpt explores what Nolan describes as an "original riddle or paradox": Anyone who saves his or her life will lose it; anyone who loses her or his life will save it.
This excerpt is accompanied by images of Lothaire Bluteau playing "Daniel," who in turn is playing Jesus, from the 1989 film Jesus of Montreal.
(To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)
To save one's life means to hold onto it, to love it and be attached to it and therefore fear death. To lose one's life is to let go of it, to be detached from it and therefore to be willing to die. The paradox is that the person who fears death is already dead, whereas the person who has ceased to fear death has at that moment begun to live. A life that is genuine and worthwhile is only possible once one is willing to die.
We are left with the question of what one should be prepared to die for. The Maccabean martyrs died for the law; the Zealots died to defend the sovereignty of Israel's God; other people have been willing to die for other causes. Jesus did not die for a cause. As he understood it, one should be willing to give up one's life for exactly the same reason as one gives up possessions, prestige, family and power, namely for others. Compassion and love compel people to do everything for others. But the person who says he or she lives for others but is not willing to suffer and die for them is a liar and is dead. Jesus was fully alive because he was willing to suffer and die not for a cause but for people.
The willingness to die for others should be further qualified. It is not a willingness to die for someone or for some people; it is a willingness to die for all people. The willingness to die for some people would an expression of group solidarity. The willingness to die for humankind is an expression of universal solidarity.
Jesus' willingness to die for all people is therefore a service just as everything else in his life is a service, a service rendered to all people. "For the son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to offer his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45). A ransom is given to redeem or liberate others. To offer one's life as a ransom is to be willing to die so that others might live. "For many" is a Hebrew and Aramaic expression which generally means "for everyone." Thus at the last supper too Jesus prefigured the offering of his blood "for many" (Mk 14:24; Mt 26:28).
– Albert Nolan
Jesus Before Christianity
Jesus Before Christianity
NEXT: No Other Way
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)
When Expulsion is the Cost of Discipleship
Christ and Krishna