Jesus of Nazareth is a puzzlement. A paradoxical figure who does not become clearer to us the farther we are from lst century Palestine. The farther we get from the first more approximate witnesses to his life. But Jesus’ importance lies precisely in this strange, often off-putting man whose family thought he was crazy, posed a threat to the religious and political establishment, and was a devout Jew who worked on the Sabbath and went around with a ban of fishermen, and with any and everyone who came to his table, and even kept company with women! He not only upset the tables outside the Temple but upset everyone’s apple cart. We shy away from this Jesus. A man who stood everything his fellow Jews believed on its head. If we pay attention to his whole story, not just the parts we are comfortable with, that carry more sentimentality than truth or have been emphasized to the exclusion of others, we are faced with a person whose image cannot be sprayed with fixative or content ourselves with neat or systematic pictures of this man. And by wanting to assert his divinity – his extraordinary closeness to God – much of him and his reason for living and dying have been eclipsed.
One thing we can say with some certainty. He provoked change. He invited transformation. He stood at a moment in time between the faith of his fathers, the patriarchs of Israel, and a faith that would follow him and gather together, take up faith in the God of Life, Yahweh, and transform how we would now see, know and experience God, because now God has a human face. As the echoes of Isaiah gather about him, he brought once more the good news, now in his person, where God’s cause became his. Where God’s promise might yet come about.
He took up the cause of the marginal and dispossessed, of outcasts and of sinners, of lepers and prostitutes, the disfigured and the demented. Because of this he would be betrayed, betrayed so that he could become the one through whom (like Joseph) the betrayed and outcasts, the slaves and the homeless, could be numbered among the elect.
The history of the world collapsed on Calvary, as Jesus secured a place in the kingdom of God for those who were believed to be set outside this kingdom. On that hill he held the history of the Jews in himself, their suffering and their cries to their Lord, their beliefs and hopes, their sense of forsakenness and the deafening silence of false gods. All of history that would follow culminated there as well, in him who would stand for, live and die for all who would come after and follow in the footfall of his people through the vast wilderness of plenty and loss, suffering and chaos, hardship and the endless renewal of life which would rise out of the collapse of the world as he breathed his last. In him Israel would rise. In him all that have come after would rise as well. Rise to the possibility and promise of life saved, redeemed and whole.
He came for many. For many he lived. To many he taught. And for many he healed. But in the end he died for all. He died, not for sins, but for all, so that we might become healed and whole, and experience in him the reign of the Holy One of Israel in our lives. For he too could say, echoing the words of Joseph, you meant it for evil, but God – my Father – meant it for good. And Jesus was and is that good.