Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
December 25, 2000
Debate over Jesus continues today
Anyone who has not yet seen the exhibit Anno Domini, Jesus through the Centuries, at the Provincial Museum, should make a special effort to do so.
The exhibit is subtitled Exploring the Heart of Two Millennia, but curator David Goa hastens to explain that even a large suite of exhibitions would fail to do justice to all the aspects of the Nazarene's influence on our civilization.
Anno Domini, although extensive in its exploration, only gives us a glimpse of the themes set out by Jaroslav Pelikan in his book Jesus Through the Centuries.
Goa writes, "It explores not what Jesus meant, for that is the province of Christians and churches, but what his person and teaching has been taken to mean."
Throughout the centuries the answers to the question "Who do you say I am" have varied widely. The last election was clear evidence of this interpretation rift in our own time.
But differences existed since the beginning. "Some say John the Baptist," answered his followers. "Others say Elijah, Jeremiah or some other prophet." Not interested in rumours, Jesus questioned each disciple personally, until Simon Peter answered: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:13-16).
Afraid of the repercussions, Peter backtracked not much later and denied he ever knew Jesus.
When the Son of the living God hung nailed to the cross like a common criminal, and deserted by most of his followers, it became even more difficult to answer the question. The Sanhedrin, anticipating a Messiah, had condemned Jesus for blasphemy.
The Roman governor didn't want to commit himself and washed his hands of the matter, allowing the people to choose Barabbas as a more likely messiah.
The resurrection and the subsequent Pentecost gave the faithful remnant new courage to speak out again. The conversion of Paul and his stubborn decision to preach to the gentiles was instrumental in transforming this small Jewish sect into a major religion.
The process was not without hazards. The Apostles, except for John, paid for their conviction with their lives. Only towards the end of the first century, after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, both apocalyptic events, did the evangelists begin to write their Gospels proclaiming Jesus as the Saviour.
In the days of Decian and Diocletian, Christians were used as bait for gladiators and wild beasts. Constantine changed all that when, for better or worse, he made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. And when the old empire crumbled it was replaced with the Holy Roman Empire.
Still, the debate over who Jesus really was persisted, and people with the wrong answer perished at the stake. There were forced conversions, crusades and expulsions of Jews and Muslims to keep Europe a fortress of Christianity.
Boatloads of plundering Vikings and hordes of Mongols threatened to wipe out Christianity, but it was the division among Christians themselves that caused the most bloodshed.
This divisiveness and insistence of each faction to have the right answer was transplanted to the colonies.
Our bloodstained history over two millennia seems at odds with the person and teachings of Jesus. Who, in this consumer culture, do we say he is? Christ the Liberator or Christ the Dominator?
Reflecting on the great contradictions between our destructive civilization and our claims of discipleship, a friend in Winnipeg writes: "I can only see Christ as a woman now."
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