Jesus’ last day

Given our collective reluctance to believe anyone claiming to be the messiah, why have so many people over the last 2,000 or so years accepted the actual historical Jesus as the son of God? I decide it’s time: I have to go back and read every word Jesus said. It sounds like an enormous task. But, really it isn’t. All the dialogue he is purported to have spoken would fit in fewer than 100 pages if collected back-to-back and, by some accounts, would take a person about two hours if she were to perform it as an enormous, disjointed, and somewhat repetitive monologue. But it can’t possibly be exact quotes, can it? The words attributed to Jesus were written down 50 or more years after he died and, then, not necessarily by the original guys to whom he spoke them. After that, copies of the originals were made by hand until the printing press was invented and later the texts went through translations into modern tongues—all of which has created some distance between the source and us contemporary folks like some epic game of telephone.

I pour over the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—the books of the New Testament where the bulk of the Jesus story is told. It’s amazing what I learn. Again and again, Jesus lets others draw their own conclusions about his identity. He asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” and they’re the ones who say “messiah.” He asks several times, “Who say the people that I am?” When rulers call him “King of the Jews,” he says, “If you say so.” I count about a dozen variations of an exchange like this one: “And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou are the Christ.” I find it truly remarkable that I’ve gone through life thinking that Jesus went around saying, “I’m the messiah,” which has colored my impression of him despite his many good qualities. I’ve just bought what other people have said about Jesus as words he said about himself. On a few occasions he even warns against believing anyone who claims to be Christ.

I arrive at the church at noon expecting that I’ll go through the stations of the cross guiding me through the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life alone because the minister mentioned that they’ll be numbered and easy to traverse. I don’t really know what to expect. I picture a Halloween haunted house with little vignettes—some frightening, some merely creepy—set up around a series of darkened rooms. Here is a ghost that pops out at you; here is a bowl of ketchup and spaghetti that feels like human brains. Are you sufficiently terrified? Why, yes, I am. Thank you.

A small group of three older women and a man plus the minister is assembled near the altar when I walk into the sanctuary. I recognize one of the women; she sat next to me at the Sunday service. She has short white hair and the cute round face of a cabbage patch kid grown old. Today when she spots me, she smiles and waves me over. “We’re just getting started,” she says putting her arm around me and giving me a squeeze. As soon as my shoulder presses against hers, I realize how relieved I am to have companionship through this strange little journey. I wrap my arm around her.

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14 thoughts on “Jesus’ last day

  1. Oh..I like the way you are doing this: Reading Jesus words and forming your own understanding and then at the church expressing things about your feelings not only about walking through the stations of the cross but also the relief of companionship for the journey. Two important things: What’s going on in your mind and what’s going on in your heart at the feeling level. You may not know it yet, but you are letting the God within talk to you. I an thoroughly enjoying reading about your walk no matter where it takes you.

  2. I wish you well on your journey. I pray that you will feel God’s love coming through others like the grown up cabbage patch doll who squeezed you to her side when you went to investigate the stations of the cross.

  3. Hi Corinna,
    In reference to the total of 100 pages of Jesus’ dialogue, is that before or after, the Bible was thoroughly vetted by expert theologians in order to remove words that were “probably not the words of Jesus”? If memory serves, It was ultimately determined that Jesus could actually only be given credit for something like 10% of the words that were originally claimed to be his.

    • Hi Junior, Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply. This is post-vetting. A lot of his “dialogue” is repetitive, because many of the same stories appear in the different gospels, so I think if you account for that, it’s actually much fewer than 100 pages. Thanks for visiting my blog!

  4. Whether or not there was an historical Jesus and, if there was, whether or not the gospels accurately reflect his life and teachings, are questions that can never have definitive answers. In my view, it is very likely that there was an historical Jesus, but it is very unlikely that he considered himself divine. Mark, the earliest of the gospels, does not, in its present form, include the virgin birth, and the earliest manuscripts do not include the resurrection as well. Thus it is fair to conclude that both are later interpolations, and it is on these two pillars that claims for the divinity of Jesus largely rest. As far as we know, Jesus was a Jew who spoke no Greek or Latin, never left Judea, and considered himself a sort of rabbi in the Jewish religious tradition. Although the Yahweh cult struggled for centuries to prevail over the polytheism it grew out of, it had long been fully ascendant by the time that Jesus was born. Central to this tradition was the idea that god was a spirit who had no physical form which could be represented by a graven image. Thus the one true god could never be embodied, and no one who did not wish to die in a hail of stones would have gone around Judea claiming to be a god in human form. And indeed, the gospels do not portray Jesus as doing so. He makes no such claims to the multitudes and, as you have noted, his comments to his disciples on this subject, as on many subjects, are indirect and ambiguous. Matthew is the gospel which aims to convert Jews to the Jesus movement. Over and over again, it links some saying or action of Jesus to a prophecy from the Hebrew Bible concerning the messiah. Luke/Acts (they are one book in the original manuscripts) is the gospel aimed at Greco-Romans who could not have cared less whether Jesus was the Jewish messiah or not. It is Luke who gives the fullest account of the virgin birth, including Mary’s friendship with John the Baptist’s mother, the annunciation, the trip to Bethlehem, the stable and the manger, and the shepherds in the fields. Seen in its full story arc, Luke/Acts describes how Christianity began with Jesus in Judea, how the disciples became evangelists after his death, and how the new religion began to spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. That world had a very different religious tradition, one in which the gods occasionally procreated with human beings. Herakles is not the only Greek hero to have a divine parent, but he is the most prominent. Julius Caesar was proclaimed a god after his death, and Augustus was deified in his lifetime, although largely for provincial consumption. Subsequent Caesars were likewise deified, and Alexander the Great apparently believed that he too had a divine father. Claiming to have divine parentage was the way you gained authority in the Greco-Roman world, just as claiming to be the messiah was the way you gained authority in the Jewish world. Judaism to this day provides no firm teachings on the afterlife. The Christian afterlife is an adaptation of Greco-Roman myths where Hades, once the universal abode of all the dead, becomes the hell of the damned, and Olympus, denuded of its pagan gods, becomes the heaven of the pearly gates. Like the doctrine of the trinity, the cult of the virgin, and the canon of saints, these additions were meant to make a Jewish cult more palatable to a Greco-Roman audience. In the process, self-identified Jews were alienated from the Jesus movement and repudiated it as a heresy.

    • It becomes obvious to me, then, that reading the Bible as literal truth and in particular the sayings of Jesus are not the things of greatest import. Instead, read it as one would read a story and glean from it whatever “truths” seem to be present in the story. There is much to be gleaned as metaphor. What is one’s feeling for the consciousness of this man and can we in turn open ourselves to a similar consciousness within ourselves that we might not have discovered yet. I have no problem with the things mentioned above and agree that modern day biblical research has brought much of that to light. The writers, who were not necessarily the ones identified in the Bible, had spiritual and political persuasions, too and could easily choose those stories from pagan histories that would supplement them to accomplish their goals.

  5. I love your journey and have shared it with my group on Sunday. My prayer is that you will continue to experience God as well as some of His warm-hearted people. Keep writing as I love to read your discovery as a reality trip seeking God.

  6. Jesus made powerful use of the question. For example, “Who do you say that I am?” Sometimes asking the right question is more important than pontificating.

  7. What to say. I never imagined myself reading a blog let alone responding to one. Who to believe? All decisions are made based on available information no matter who we are or when it is. I made the same journey you are making about 30 years ago and that was always the issue. For myself it came down to a couple of basic factors. That Jesus was a real person to me seemed like a given and 30 years on there seems to be even more evidence from the historic and even archeological record. How accurate are the quotes from Jesus? You must remember that human memory is a tool that is going more unused all the time. 2000 years ago people HAD to remember, and they did so quickly. There was a time when epic poems were passed on for generations by memory alone. I regress. The questions at the core are was Jesus a liar, a lunatic or who he claimed to be. If he was a lunatic why did he make so much sense and so many people follow him? WHY was he crucified, and why did he not stop it by proclaiming NOT to be what they all were saying about him as divine? He was killed by Romans BUT because the Jewish authorities said he claimed to be so. You are coming to that at Easter and I believe (and so did John) that without the resurrection there is no Christ. If he was a liar why did his followers not distance themselves so they would not be killed? Only one disciple died from anything but a violent death for believing in him. I admire many teachings from Confucious, Islam, Buddha, etc. but there is only one that I know who practiced what he preached to the point of death. I know many say you have to go to the Bible alone but that brings us back to what others have pointed out, which one? For me there were two other books that got me to really think deeply about these things. One is C.S Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” and the other is Og Mandinos “The Christ Commission” They are easy reads but very provocative. One warning! Beware the revisionists! There are many who want Jesus to be made in their image so much is done to prove that we can’t know ANYtHING about what he said or who he was. Or that they have new stuff that was thrown out. Authority is not always evil and does often get it right even though they make Horrific mistakes in how they go about it at times. As a personal note I should say that I write this at a time of personal crisis that has me asking serious questions about what I believe. Does any of it really matter? Maybe it matters more than ever but all I can grasp is human kindness at this point. Who better than Jesus to remind us of that. In Victor Hugos words, “To love another person is to see the face of God”. Sorry to not make it short and sweet like I set out to. Good luck and God Bless

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