WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Fr. Don MacDonald says Jesus came to inaugurate God's final definitive kingdom.
Based on the experience that certain chosen people had during Jesus' public ministry, especially the Apostles, the Jesus we see in the Gospels is fully human, says Father Don MacDonald.
Was he seen as divine, though?
"Let me put it this way: he certainly created an impression that would have made people ask questions, especially those closest to him," MacDonald said in a lecture Feb. 4.
"Jesus did not claim he was divine, except in John's Gospel. His major claim, which Scripture scholars say is a resumé of the ministry of Jesus, is that he was inaugurating God's final, definite rule, or reign or kingdom."
Jesus never preached his own rule. It was always the rule of God. "But there are strong indications, nevertheless, that those who accepted Jesus accepted God's kingdom or rule," the Franciscan said. "There are a number of hints like that that show that Jesus wasn't like everybody else."
MacDonald gave three 20-minute lectures on God the Son, which is part of the series of talks on the Creed currently taking place in the archdiocese. About 40 people attended his lectures at the Catholic Pastoral and Administration Offices' Assembly Hall.
In his first talk, MacDonald said what struck people about Jesus the most was his intimate relationship with God, his Father.
The people of Israel, though they call him Father on occasion, were reluctant to use family language such as father and mother when speaking about God, he said. Israelites preferred using royal or kingly imagery when speaking about God.
This is true as well of the Judaism of Jesus' day. "With Jesus, however, there is an explosion of the use of 'Father' for God. Moreover, he did use the term 'Abba' in speaking or praying to his Father." The term "Abba" reveals an intimacy and familiarity similarly to dad or papa.
Jesus is presented as forgiving sins on two occasions. One concerns the paralyzed man who was brought in through the roof; the other is with the woman of ill repute who came and washed his hair. He forgave her sins. "And of course the forgiveness of sins is a divine prerogative."
Jesus also challenged the two major divinely instituted foundations of Jewish identity: the Law and the Temple.
"It would be going too far to say he claimed to replace them; nevertheless, Jesus expressed an authority towards the Law and the Temple which at the very least relativized their importance," MacDonald said.
"Indeed, those closest to Jesus would have grasped that the most important thing was to follow him - a huge claim in that type of a culture. 'You leave your parents, you leave your sister, your brother, your wife, your husband, whatever, and you follow me.' To say that was counter-cultural is really too weak."
In fact, Jesus claimed that all other religious duties were secondary compared to following him, MacDonald said.
Finally, Jesus was crucified for blasphemy. "This does not mean that his opponents thought that he was divine. It does mean, however, that they considered him a troublemaker with enough religious clout to threaten their national security."
With his death on the cross, whatever faith his disciples had in him, died with him.
"(However) on Easter morning, whatever doubts, hesitations, reluctance or questions that the disciples had regarding the paradox that Jesus represented, dissipated when Jesus came and manifested himself to them as the Risen One."
"He came not only as the Risen One who had conquered death but as the exalted and glorified Lord whose body was transformed, penetrated through and through by the very life and love of God."
MacDonald said it is important to understand that Jesus was not only raised from the dead back to a body like ours. "He is that but it's a body that comes from God's world," he said.
"The laws of space and time no longer belong to him; they don't constrain him, so to speak. The Jesus of those resurrection accounts, I repeat, comes from the world of God. They are like the theophanies or manifestations of God in the Old Testament."
When St. John presents Thomas as falling on his knees and saying, "My Lord and my God," he is portraying the core of the new Christian faith that the resurrection of Jesus brings to his followers, MacDonald said.
There is evidence that Jesus was called Lord in the early Christian communities and that he was worshipped as divine, according to MacDonald. "This was in the Roman Empire, where the worship of Caesar alone was tolerated. This is something that we should not forget."