Posted by: Susan Strouse | April 21, 2012

Fish and Flesh: From the Jesus of History to the Christ of Faith

Suddenly! After the resurrection, Jesus shows up, asks for something to eat, and devours a piece of fish!  Now what is up with that?!

What’s going on is the process of Jesus of Nazareth becoming the Christ of faith. The gospel writers are bridging for us the gap between the historical Jesus and the post-Easter Christ.  It is a gap which we still have to navigate today.

For some Christians, it’s the historical Jesus who is more appealing and accessible: Jesus the teacher and healer, the prophet who challenged the religious and political systems of his day, an example to us of living out the vision of the realm of God right here and now.  In fact, some prefer to be called ‘followers of Jesus’ rather than ‘Christians.’

Others are drawn more to the Christ of faith: the infinite, eternal, divine, ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords,’ the savior who takes away the sin of the world, who reigns in glory and guarantees our eternal life. For many the two are one and the same. That’s what the gospel writers tell us: the risen Jesus, who can walk through walls, can also get hungry and enjoy a good piece of broiled fish.

I’ve noticed that on many progressive Christian websites and blogs, it’s the historical Jesus who is quoted and promoted.  And I can understand why we want to shy away from atonement theology, exclusivity, and triumphalistic claims.

But I’m afraid that in our well-intentioned attempts to tone ourselves down, we’re also avoiding the process of bridging the gap between the historical Jesus and the post-Easter Christ.  Marcus Borg calls the post-Easter Jesus “the Jesus of Christian experience and tradition,”  the one called Light of the World, Bread of Life, Messiah, and the Way.  The gospels and other New Testament writings are witnesses to how they made sense of what they had experienced or heard – and how Jesus of Nazareth became the Christ of faith.

Jesus died, but Christ is alive. Those first followers had to work out for themselves what that meant. We need to do the same in order to be faithful witnesses in our place and time.

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