In a chapter on “Politics and Religion,” Albert Nolan, as for many theologians who followed him, reminds us that the fact that Jesus was executed on a charge of high treason does not make him unique. Many thousands of Jewish rebels and revolutionaries were crucified by the Roman rulers of Palestine during this period.
Furthermore, Jesus did not found an organization; he inspired a movement. It was inevitable that the movement would quite soon become an organization but in the beginning there were simply people, scattered individuals and groups, who has been inspired by Jesus…..
Each remembered Jesus in his own way or had been struck by a particular aspect of what they had heard about him. There were at first no doctrines and no dogmas, no universally accepted way of following him or believing in him. This is Jesus and church or gathering before the Christian empire.
Jesus had no successor…Jesus was obviously felt to be irreplaceable. If he died, the movement died. But if the movement continued to live, then it could only be because in some sense or another Jesus continued to live. This seems to be the basic meaning of the “Resurrection.”
The early Christians were those who continued to experience or began to experience, in one way or another, the power of Jesus’ presence among them after his death. This is the primacy of spirituality over religion—experience over structures.
Many also experienced the continued leadership and inspiration of Jesus as the inheriting of his Spirit—the Spirit of God….The prophecy of Joel was being fulfilled in them through Jesus: the Spirit had been poured out among them, making them all prophets who see visions and dream dreams (see Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:14-41). Jesus remained present and active through the presence and activity of his Spirit. Here lies the promise that we are all prophets, as Rabbi Heschel reminds us, that “in the recesses of every human existence there lies a prophet.”
Getting to those recesses is what matters. Going deep. What are the signs that we are going deep? Undergoing the via positiva, being struck by the awe and wonder, joy and delight in life; the via negativa, both silence and suffering and heartbreak; the via creativa, our creativity; and the via transformative, our passion for justice and healing, celebration and compassion. Here lie the recesses of our existence.
See Albert Nolan, Jesus before Christianity, pp. 92, 134f.
Adapted also from Matthew Fox, Original Blessing.
And Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion.
Queries for Contemplation
How important is it that we recognize the Jesus who came before Christianity itself? And before the church? And before the time when the church took over the dying Roman empire?
Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality
Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology): the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.
“Original Blessing makes available to the Christian world and to the human community a radical cure for all dark and derogatory views of the natural world wherever these may have originated.” –Thomas Berry, author, The Dream of the Earth; The Great Work; co-author, The Universe Story
A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice
In A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox delivers a profound exploration of the meaning and practice of compassion. Establishing a spirituality for the future that promises personal, social, and global healing, Fox marries mysticism with social justice, leading the way toward a gentler and more ecological spirituality and an acceptance of our interdependence which is the substratum of all compassionate activity.
“Well worth our deepest consideration…Puts compassion into its proper focus after centuries of neglect.” –The Catholic Register