Thursday, 27 February 2014

Will the real Jesus please stand up?

Mmm…Just musing about the one who claimed to be the king of kings but rode on a donkey on palm Sunday instead of a bejeweled chariot in the sky led by a brilliant host of stallions. Jesus is really something. Even if you were not a believer, you would still have to give it to him for his achievements. Napoleon, Gandhi and Einstein had all paid their personal and individual tributes to this man who had taught and lived a life that is emulated even till today, and for decades to come.

Even atheists would have to admit that no man, or very few of them, had attained equivalent posthumous status like Jesus did. And mind you, none of them would say that Jesus’ life and ministry were merely incidental or coincidental to the widespread popularity he is still receiving today. In other words, it is not a fluke. And Jesus did all this without an itinerant biographer or the hounding media or a proper printing press. My god, he lived almost one thousand and five hundred years before the printing press! Eat your heart out man, Gutenberg.

Secular historians may deny or resist his claim to messiahship or savior-hood or his proclamation that he had come to fulfill the scriptures. But they would be hard-pressed to deny him his rightful place in the annals of history as the one who, in living, had touched lives in the most personal manner conceivable; and who, in death, had given his life in the most intimate sacrifice possible; and who, in his self-proclaimed resurrection, has revived hope in the most sustainable way imaginable (to his believers worldwide).

The standing churches, the charities established in honor of him, and the modern world formed on the back of his radical, almost counterintuitive, ideas beginning at the sermon of the mount, all stand as a testament to the fact that Jesus was sui generis (an exception to the general rule), a class above the rest, and a cut not made from this worldly cloth. 

If I were to study Jesus as a humanist or a secularist, I would have to admit that he was no ordinary person. Putting all my bias aside as a Christian, I would have to come to a point to acknowledge that he was more than a history maker in the likes of Alexander, Genghis Khan or the great helmsman Mao Zedong (not that I particularly admire them). There is just something about Jesus that distinguishes him from the rest of the history movers and shakers.

He changed lives in the most intimate way. He liberated women. He mixed with the rejects of society and gave them hope. One author wrote, "In Jesus we have the holiest man who ever lived, and yet it was the prostitutes and lepers and thieves who adored him." Further, he offered more than the other cheek at the Cross. He represented non-violent resistance or submission. He lived a humbled existence, rejecting what this world would deem important like fame, fortune and power. He died in the worst manner possible in order to secure the best alternative conceivable. A modern day psychologist once remarked, "Jesus approached each individual with a psychological brilliance that was compelling. No one who met him could ever forget how it felt." If first impression lasts, then meeting Jesus meant that it lasted for a lifetime and more.

But above all, what captured me most about Jesus is that he was born not to rule a kingdom on earth but the kingdom in our hearts. I truly believe that that is the only way to change the world, that is, changing hearts - one heartbeat at a time.

I guess that is why Jesus did not say that he wanted us to be "fishers of political systems", "fishers of ideologies", or "fishers of fashions, fads or trends". He simply wanted us to be fishers of men. And in so doing, he wanted us to reel in the hearts of men (and women) and change the world from inside-out, one soul at a time.

Napoleon once waxed lyrical about Jesus, "I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between him and every other person in the world, there is no possible terms of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded his empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for him." What high praise from a conqueror of empires himself!

Sometimes, we have to give credit where credit is rightfully due. John Ortberg wrote to the effect that Jesus was never married yet he knew the heart of women more than a husband knows his. He never held office and yet he ruled as a prince of peace in the hearts of many. He never wrote a book and yet books have been written about him, his teachings and his claims. And the collective impact persuaded great minds, transformed hardened hearts, and inspired the most stubborn spirit.

Let me end with this unconventional thought and I hope the atheists can appreciate this. Jesus seemed very much like he came from another world. He talked about the other world most of the time. It is rumored that he knew the way, the truth and the light. In fact, he said that he was the embodiment of all three in one. He even declared that he was God, the son of God. What audacity if such were the twaddle of a trickster! In fact, CS Lewis narrowed the options for us: “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Of course, there are always other options. Atheist scientist Richard Dawkins hinted that Jesus could be  mistaken and not know about it; a kind of self-deluded grandiose.  Some are even claiming that Jesus was no different from Joseph Smith, Jim Jones or David Koresh.  Well, I am sure the difference is obvious from the life Jesus led and the life he eventually gave up. In any event, I am not here to argue for or compare those questionable lives with the life of Christ. But my point is this, whichever way you see it, Jesus had really left us with no other choice; for those who take him seriously of course.

For me, I guess there is no middle way or a sit-out at the back benches or a straddling-on-the-fence position. And the real tragedy of man is ironically not so much about making the wrong choice. Surprised? I think the greater tragedy is never to have made that definitive choice and then carry on living a life pretending that one had already been made.

I can think of a no more insufferable existence than one that is stranded between two great unknowns, be it of glory or otherwise, after the expiry of a life because of a refusal or a neglect to make that choice. At least an atheist or a theist can't say that they have not made their choices. And as they have made it, they can then proceed on their chosen paths of discovery. What then is the hanged fate of the luke-warmer, the half-hearted or the undecided?

You see, Jesus came not to run for office, campaign for presidency or chair over board meetings (its modern equivalent that is). He came for us, for me – so says he. His visitation is personal. He claims to be God reconnecting with his creation; a divine reconciliation, a meeting of hearts. It is literally the deep calling to the deep. It is not disputed that he spent 3 decades of peaceful co-existence to devote 3 years of ministry and teaching so as to endure 3 days of unspeakable cruelty for us. The least we can do is to take the time to make this choice and to either live it up for him or walk away for good. But to live somewhere in the muddling middle and never coming to a decision is to live an existence no different from the proverbial Buridan’s ass that died of hunger and thirst because it could not decide between a stack of hay and a pail of water. Cheerz.

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