Richard Rohr Meditation: Who Was Jesus?

The Bible is surely the most controversial book ever in print. It has done an immense amount of good. Unfortunately, it probably has also caused more damage than any other text. Throughout history we clearly see how many Christians acted in oppressive, ignorant, and abusive ways in the name of Jesus and the Gospel (two of the most damning examples being the support of slavery and the subjugation and colonization of indigenous peoples). It seems that to many Christians it did not matter what Jesus really said or did. They just needed an imperial God-figure, and Jesus was used to fit the bill. It could just as well have been Howdy Doody.

.. We’re trying to be more honest with the Scriptures—inspired by God, as understood by humans—rather than making the Bible say what we want it to say or interpreting it according to our cultural conditioning. Yet God has always risked being misused, misinterpreted, or “man-handled” by God’s own people. For me, this is the deep symbolism of the babe in a manger. God completely, vulnerably gives God’s self over to our care.

Most Christians preconceive Jesus as “the divine Savior of our divine church,” which prematurely settles all the dust and struggle of his human experience. Such a predisposition does not open us to enlightenment so we also can have the mind of Christ, but in fact, deadens and numbs our perception. Too often we read the Bible with an eye to prove this understanding of “our” Jesus so that our ideas and our church are right—and others are wrong. If we are honest enough to admit this bias, we may have a chance of letting go of it for a richer understanding of the Gospel.

Peter Enns makes the case that Scripture doesn’t tell us everything. So does it tell us anything?

So, for instance, he shows us differences between sacrificial laws in Exodus and Deuteronomy and calls them contradictions, without acknowledging that the former are given for life in the wilderness, and the latter for life in the Promised Land.

.. Even more problematic, Enns describes stories where God kills people, like the Flood, as “hard to defend as the Word of God in civil adult conversation.” He spends many pages stressing what a problem divine violence is. Yet he never mentions that Jesus himself not only quoted events like this—all-destroying floods, fire and sulphur from heaven, pillars of salt, the whole caboodle—but used them to explain what his own coming would be like (Luke 17:22-37). Jesus even tells stories about people being handed over to torturers (Matt. 18:34) and eternal punishment (Matt. 25:41-46).

So yes, the picture of Jesus painted in the Gospels should unsettle fundamentalists and flat literalists. But it also should also unsettle progressives, peaceniks, and professors—especially those who think that Jesus would join them in rejecting the accuracy of the Bible’s violent narratives.

.. In short, if I were trying to write a book about the Bible that allowed progressive moderns to ditch all the bits they don’t like, this is exactly how I would have done it.