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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.

Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.

The best image we can form of ourselves always revolves around how we want to carry on Jesus’ ministry.



Daniel 7:13-14
Revelation 1:5-8
John 18:33b-37

Did the historical Jesus actually conceive of himself as a king? Though the Roman authorities nailed that insurrectionist title on his cross, there’s no reason to believe he ever accepted it.

Each of us has an image of who we are: a way of seeing ourselves in the world in which we live. Yet at the same time, every person who encounters us during our lifetime also has an image of us – an image often at right angles to our own. I presume the itinerant preacher from Capernaum was no different.

Like last week’s quest about the historical Jesus’ concept of God’s kingdom, so today, though we know little about the image he had of himself during his earthly ministry, we can be fairly certain of the various images his first century followers had of him. They’re well portrayed in our Christian Scriptures.

The author of Revelation, for instance, provides us with a bunch of them in our second reading. For him, the risen Jesus is “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth.” He’s also “the Alpha and the Omega . . . the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty.” In other words, he/she is everything for everybody: the very beginning and end of the whole universe.

The early church would frequently go through the Hebrew Scriptures, searching for images they could attach to the risen Jesus. Today’s Daniel pericope provides the classic “Son of man” depiction. Though the gospel Jesus often uses the title about himself, no one can be certain how he means it. Is he implying that he’s the mysterious, semi-divine person whom Daniel saw “coming on the clouds of heaven;” a person who would receive “dominion, glory, and kingship?” Or could he be referring to Yahweh’s use of the term in addressing the prophet Ezekiel; a title which implied “I’m God, and you’re not?” In other words, “I, Jesus, am just a human being like you are.” The same term can conjure up two opposite images.

Yet, today’s image of Jesus as king would certainly have created problems for both the historical Jesus and his first followers. Living in the Roman Empire, they were expected, under threats of “treason,” to have just one king: Caesar. That seems to be why whenever the “king thing” comes up in the gospels, Jesus either rejects the title, or, as in today’s Johannine passage, stresses that he’s not a king in the way the word is normally defined: “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” No matter what, Jesus never seems to have imagined himself as belonging to royalty.

On the contrary, our evangelists, especially Mark, seem to have given titles to Jesus which their readers could make their own, not just ooh and aah about. We need only go back several weekends to the Mark 10 narrative in which the gospel Jesus refers to himself as the “servant” and “slave” of all; a person who “did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He certainly never had an image of himself as someone who would ever “lord it over” anyone.

Though, through the centuries, many Christian leaders thought of themselves as representatives of royalty, the majority of the faithful thankfully regarded themselves as mirroring the servant image which the historical and gospel Jesus had of himself. If they hadn’t, the faith which this Galilean carpenter professed and shared, would never have had any effect in changing the world.

The best image we can form of ourselves always revolves around how we want to carry on Jesus’ ministry.