by Berry Friesen (November 10, 2015)
As I’ve tried to explain in the previous two posts, Jesus changed how the world works.
By his compassion, forgiveness and self-giving love, he offered the world an account of what makes life meaningful and how we can live with one another in peace. Jesus deliberately enacted this new way in the relationships he formed, in the spectacles he created, in the rituals he initiated and in the very public way he died.
This new way of being human has proved to be powerfully attractive and its transformative energy is only increasing with time. We find echoes of this attraction and energy in popular culture; in the way everyday people describe a good life and their dissatisfaction with counterfeits; in the inability of systemic values such as law, nation, religion and empire to maintain legitimacy and retain our loyalty; in the ever-shorter shelf-life of the empire’s propaganda.
As stated by Tony Bartlett, author of Virtually Christian and the writer whose insights have guided this three-part reflection, Jesus “wrested human meaning from its violent foundations and reprogrammed it as compassion, forgiveness, life and peace.”
Jesus’ impact is not only personal to those individuals who believe in him, says Bartlett, but over time has become cultural and public, impacting all of humanity: “The message of Jesus [has] by now become part of our human fabric.” It has changed what it means to be human.
Why don’t we see this? The question is meant for those of us who self-identity as Christians, who claim to be following his way. We so often look right past how Jesus has changed the world, focusing instead on what he accomplished for religious individuals in a future time and place.
Bartlett’s answer to this question takes us to John the Baptist, Jesus’s mentor and the man Jesus called the greatest of all the prophets. John doubted Jesus was the one he had been waiting for because the Romans still maintained their power, as did the priests and scribes in the religious realm. John expected the coming of the empire of YHWH to be ushered in with the violence of superior force, much as Elijah had done it in ancient times.
When we say that Jesus changes human hearts, but that the world hasn’t changed, we—like John the Baptist—pay allegiance to violence as ruler of the world and the measure of all things.
Meanwhile, Jesus’ way of being human increasingly defines humanity’s aspirations. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Christians were among the last to notice?