Sunday, Jan 11, 2004: “The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions #2”

St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary

Session Two: The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions

By Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright

Sunday, January 11, 2004


Mike Kreutzer led off discussion by asking everyone what were their impressions of the third and fourth chapters of the book co-written by Borg and Wright, which deals with what Jesus did and what he taught. It was noted that there were a number of prophets who came as late as one hundred years after Jesus’ death, which are to be found in the Acts of the Apostles. Once again Wright reminds us that we must first of all look at Jesus as a first century Palestinian Jew. The author builds up the life of Jesus one phase at a time. Jesus the prophet is first, followed by the announcement of God’s kingdom, etc. The view of the kingdom of God is decidedly different between Borg and Wright. There is also a sharp contrast in the difference of the perceived consciousness of Jesus. Wright maintains that Jesus knew he was the Son of God while he was still here on earth. Borg takes the opposite side and maintains that if Jesus were truly a human, he would not have known that until post-Easter. It was suggested that perhaps Mary informed Jesus that he was the chosen Messiah.

Wouldn’t Jesus have known something by the unique gifts he had and the miracles he performed? Jesus was known at the time as a “healer,” but as a human his powers certainly would have been limited. First and foremost, Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom of heaven and directed attention towards the Heavenly Father. It becomes somewhat of a puzzle in that if Jesus realized he was the Messiah, how could we proclaim him to be human. Also, how are we able to emulate Christ if he knew he was the Messiah here on earth? Wright points out that Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom with intent on replacing the existing “establishment,” but without implementing any type of power or warfare.

Another radical idea of Jesus at the time was his inclusion of all peoples into the kingdom, including gentiles, sinners, etc. This was outside of the Jewish culture at the time of excluding those who were not pure Jews. This practice was especially prevalent in Palestine at the time. Another radical concept that Jesus taught was that forgiveness did not require a special trip to the temple, but that God forgives everywhere. Thus, it was obvious that Jesus appeared as a real threat to the traditional Jewish religion and they were “glad to get rid of him!” On the other side of the coin, however, is the fact that some people do not feel comfortable having choices! Some people like to be told by others that “this is the way it is exactly as written.” In today’s world, some of the fundamentalist churches take this approach to the interpretation of scripture and there are many followers who flock to this approach.

It was noted that Borg assigned many titles to Jesus including, Jewish mystic, healer, spirit person, wisdom teacher, social prophet and movement founder. It was in these roles that Jesus challenged the “divine right” of the existing Jewish establishment. The question is therefore asked, are we here in the Episcopal Church just following Israel and trying to keep ourselves “pure,” and only concerned with taking care of ourselves? Or are we likely to reach out to others outside the kingdom of God and invite them to follow? Is it purity or compassion upon which we are focused? Jesus taught us that compassion for others matters much more than an inward focus and that is what we should be striving for to enrich God’s kingdom.