Recently, I had a fascinating discussion with some friends about Jesus. The very first question - who was Jesus? - was pretty much the last question of the night, because it fomented such a vigorous discussion that we were all swept up and carried away.
I think we live in a time when nobody really knows much of anything about Jesus. We have access to more facts and opinions about him, or ideas about him, or doctrines about him...but in terms of really knowing who he was, or why he was important...that kind of shrivels when we turn a microscope on it.
Overall, the conversation about Jesus (the other night, with my friends) went this way:
- Who was Jesus?
- I don't think he was anybody, i.e., he did not exist, but was a myth created by...
- I am not sure it matters if he existed or not...
- Jesus was just a person; his importance to us is that he was the Christ...
- The Christ is a spiritual entity, or force, that has been throughout history...
- Jesus was just one of the Christs who have worked among us...
- So, the birth of Jesus, death, resurrection of Jesus...
- Those things don't really matter...
- It is his teaching that matters...
- What did he teach?
And on and on...
It occurred to me that Jesus - as I was seeing it at that moment, after a couple of shots of whiskey - was a bellwether, and more specifically, an indicant bellwether.
In the old days, a bellwether was a male sheep or ram that led the flock; he wore a bell around his neck, and wherever he went, the little flock would follow. Over the centuries, the word came to be understood as referring to someone (or something) that either lead a direction or trend, or as something that had no value in and of itself, but only as people interpreted it and by their interpretation demonstrated what the trend or direction of their thinking was. An indicator, so to speak...or an indicant.
I am thinking that interpreting Jesus is far more important than any historical fact about Jesus, even whether or not he existed. As an individual, or a religious group, or a culture looks at Jesus...and begins to say something about him...it is they who are defined, clarified and indicated by the process. Not Jesus. Not really.
For example: my group said - kind of - that the historical person of Jesus does not matter. What matters is the justice he taught, what his stories (or stories about him) reveal about life and the intersection of real life and spirit.
But it also occurred to us that other groups may say that the historical person of Jesus, and what he did...or what they believe he did, i.e., birth, death, resurrection...ARE what matters. His birth demonstrated that he was both man and God; his death was atonement for sin; his resurrection was overcoming death and therefore abolishing the penalty for sin.
Worlds apart. Who is right? Who is wrong? Who is closer to the Truth...the "capital T truth"?
I don't think it matters. Jesus is the indicant bellwether, he whose very existence is meant to help us understand and perhaps even define who we are and where we are in our spiritual journey. One of my friends at the discussion the other night said - "When I look at Jesus, I see me. I am a son of God."
Ding - and thus rings the bell of the bellwether.
Jesus asked "who do you say that I am?" The answer may be the only thing about Jesus that really matters.
The stars are bright tonight,
In their places in the sky.
They sprinkle empty darkness
With their scattering of light.
They are silent as they roar
An unrelenting question
that presses down upon me
like a judgment out of heaven.
We turn our gazes upward
With scope, number and line.
They are what they are,
It is we who are defined.