Dale Appleby

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Weekly Reflections

Call him Jesus – but who is he?

Call him Jesus – but who is he?

Joseph must have woken up from his dream with a spinning head. His fiancée was going to have a baby – he already knew that, and he knew he was not the father. In his dream an angel told him that the child was from the Holy Spirit.

Matthew tells us that this was to fulfill the scripture that referred to a child called Immanuel. But this child was not going to be called Immanuel – he was to be called Jesus (or Joshua). But in some way he was Immanuel.

Was he really God with us? And does that mean he was also God? Luke also tells us that it was the Holy Spirit who caused Mary to become pregnant. He says the child will be called the Son of God.

But in what sense?

Later some of his own people asked Jesus why he, a human, made himself God (Jn 10.33). Was he a man who made out, or pretended, he was God? Or was he a man who was made into a divine being because of his holiness? Or was he a man who was so full of the Holy Spirit that it was as though he was God?

A few centuries later Athanasius said that they should have asked the opposite question. “Why have you, being God, become human?” One possible way to understand who Jesus is, is to see him as God who has taken the form of a human. That is, that he is not really human, but just appears as a human, as though God was disguised, or wearing the shape of a human so humans could see and understand him. This way of thinking allows us to think of God as one, but taking different forms at different times.

But neither of these ways of understanding is right. Both have been condemned as heresies from the time of the New Testament –especially by the ecumenical Councils that produced the great creeds.

Athanasius’ question asks why God became human- not why he appeared in the form of a man. John says the Word became flesh. The great Council meeting at Chalcedon in 461, said he was, “truly God and truly man, … of the same being with the Father according to the Godhead, and … of the same nature or substance with us according to the Manhood; in all things like us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Bearer of God, according to the Manhood…”

Which suggests that God was quite serious in being with us. In fact if Jesus is God with us in this sense, then it is possible that something completely and outstandingly new has occurred. The creator has joined himself to his creation. But is that what happened? Maybe Jesus was just two personalities living together in the one body?

To be continued...

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