Who Is Jesus According to Contemporary Cultural Interpretations?
According to a fascinating Pew Research Center report*, there are “2.18 billion Christians of all ages around the world, representing nearly a third of the estimated 2010 global population of 6.9 billion. Christians are also geographically widespread—so far-flung, in fact, that no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity.”
That same report highlights the demographic shift over time of where the largest populations of Christians reside. Consider “Nigeria now has more than twice as many Protestants as Germany, the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation.” And “Indonesia [the destination of the upcoming PW Global Exchange], a Muslim-majority country, is home to more Christians than all 20 countries in the Middle East and North Africa region [the birthplace of Jesus] combined.” And, if my math is correct, just shy of 1 billion Christians reside as the minority population in two countries: China (67,070,000) and India (31,850,000).
With the staggering number of Christians in the world, residing in “far-flung” places, answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” has necessarily broadened and deepened. Each of us has our own story, and it is through our story that we interpret scripture.
God is still speaking . . . through us!
Judy writes, “The Bible is a living text; God continues to speak to us through it, so the Bible continues to have meaning for us in our time and our place. If we are willing to accept that our own life experiences impact the biblical narrative, then we are more likely to be open to what others have to say, as well.” (page 91)
In the study, we encounter a (to some) radical interpretation of Matthew 15:21–28 through the Mexican-American (and I add, female) lens of Leticia Guardiola-Sáenz. Her interpretation of the text is informed by her understanding of being defined as “Other,” just as she believes that the Canaanite woman may have felt as well. And if you have access to a copy of the Companion DVD, take time to hear Judy read a portion of Botswanan Musa Dube’s interpretation of the hemorrhaging woman from Mark 5:25–34, as she weaves that story into the story of colonialism and AIDS (near the end of track 10 at 07:52).
As the brilliant campaign by a sister denomination declares, “God is still speaking.” God speaks through each of us through our living scripture. No wonder that the PW Purpose declares our commitment “to nurture our faith through prayer and Bible study”!
My pastor recently recited words attributed to Teresa of Avila, and her words have stayed with me.
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
As the hands, feet, eyes, and body of Christ in this world, we are entrusted with bringing the hope of a compassionate God to this world. Exploring the many lenses in which Jesus is understood is invaluable as we grow into this important role of faith and service. This study offers a glimpse of how Jesus was understood by the gospel writers, Paul, the author of Hebrews, and more. This last lesson brings us forward to new interpretations of how Jesus is understood. Judy writes, “I would like us to consider, however, that the approach of ‘meaning potential’ is a more honest reading of the sacred text. This way of approaching the Bible acknowledges the reality that every reader is an interpreter standing within his or her own community. Each interpretation is a conversation between the biblical writing and the biblical reader, most often mediated by centuries of tradition and the immediate experiences and situations of the reader.” (page 87) Judy stresses that there is not a final, ultimate answer as each of one of us must determine for ourselves: Who is Jesus and who, through Jesus, is God calling [me] to be? (page 91)
Can you stand one more quote? I hope so because I feel compelled to share one more sentence:
“It is only at the end of all times that we shall be rooted and grounded in love and have the power to comprehend together with all the saints—from Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe—what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:18, 19).” Anton Wessels, Images of Jesus: How Jesus Is Perceived and Portrayed in Non-European Cultures (Grand Rapids: William Eerdmans, 1990, page 192).
*“Global Christianity—A Report on the Distribution of the World’s Christian Population,” Pew Research Center report, December 19, 2011, available online at http://www.pewforum.org/2011/12/19/global-christianity-exec/
And so we have come to this final blog of Who Is Jesus? What a Difference a Lens Makes.
Thank you for accompanying me on this journey through the study. And thank you for your many kind comments along the way. Encouraging comments are, well, encouraging! The truth is, although I have stepped inside a seminary, I have no special theological training; I am not a teaching elder, Christian educator, or church musician. I do, however, take seriously this life of mine and the journey of faith that I am led to walk. I hope that my blog has encouraged or inspired you on your own walk of faith. (And I am forever grateful to Betsy Ensign-George, PW’s Bible study editor who, unlike me, has not only stepped inside a seminary but has a beautiful diploma (in Latin!) from Princeton to prove it. Betsy has good judgment about things theological (and otherwise!) and she has helped me stay on course through this series. Thank you, Betsy! (And Betsy is always quite kind about my overuse of exclamation points. I like them! A lot!)
And truly, thank you for your witness as Presbyterian women. As staff, we have a birds-eye view of PW at work (and play) in the world. Let’s just say that Presbyterian women, to a person, live out the PW Purpose. One of my recent favorite anecdotes is from a woman who attends my circle. Each week, our local newspaper includes a generous $10 off grocery coupon. And each week, she dutifully drives over to the store and searches for a shopper. On one of her recent weekly trips, she gave the coupon to a woman who, upon receiving the coupon, exclaimed, “Thank you! Now I will have enough money that I can buy a few gallons of gas for my car.”
Judy asks in the study, “Who is Jesus and who, through Jesus, is God calling you to be?” Your weekly (daily) acts of faith, service, and kindness are evidence of taking seriously your call as Jesus’ disciples in this world.
So what’s next?
The 2017–2018 Horizons Bible study is Cloud of Witnesses: The Community of Christ in Hebrews by Melissa Bane Sevier. I am so excited about this study and look forward to (this time) reading the blog each month.
I confess that I have read the study and witnessed the making of the Companion DVD. Let me share with you a few random thoughts:
- Before I read the study, if anyone had asked me about the book of Hebrews, I would have recalled two verses: the one about “great cloud of witnesses” (12:1) and the other about “angels unaware” (13:2). Both scriptures are so intriguing but at the heart are about community, which is the overarching theme of Hebrews as well as this study (and our lives as Presbyterian women). Our faith is lived out personally and communally.
- Take special notice of the So Great a Cloud of Witnesses stories peppered throughout. One story that has offered particular food for thought for me is Emma Geu’s story on page 55. When a hailstorm brought ruin to her crop, Emma’s faith guided her to (no pun intended) weather that storm by choosing to make something good of it. And in this case, that good was ice cream frozen with the hailstones that pummeled her fields. Her lesson continues to inspire her family, and thanks to Pamela Lay who submitted this story, me. Lemons into lemonade is rivaled by hailstones into ice cream. Well done!
- When you come to the 2018 Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women, August 2–5, 2018, in Louisville, why not add an extra day and journey to Lexington, Kentucky, via Versailles Road, just off I-64? Lexington is about 75 miles east of Louisville and in this region one will see lots of horse farms as well as dry-stack fences. A dry-stack fence contains no mortar; each stone is in community, if you will, with other stones. Each stone is important to the integrity of the fence. Melissa Bane Sevier, who lives in this region, sees dry-stacks every day. Her photo of a dry-stack fence is on page 5. In the study, she writes, “It is odd to begin a study that has the word ‘cloud’ in the title with the image of a stone wall. A cloud is ethereal; a wall made of rocks is nothing if not solid. A cloud is intangible; rocks are quite tangible, especially if you drop one on your foot. A cloud changes shape; a stone wall is constant and stable. I have not been able to get either of these images out of my head since beginning the Bible study.” (page 6) This study is brimming with amazing images and imagery, including stunning three-dimensional paintings by Irene Kordalis Pedersen. As a side note, Irene’s art is fairly large in real life. That’s why the measurement of each piece featured in the study is included.
Thank you again! See you in Louisville in 2018!