“He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s son’”. Thus the chief priests, scribes and elders mocked Jesus as he hung from the cross. They assumed that Jesus had spoken literally when he identified himself as the son of God. And they assumed that God is a supernatural being who violates the laws of nature at his whim.
But when Jesus said “I am the door”, did he mean that he had hinges?
When Jesus said “I am the way”, did he mean that people could walk on him?
When Jesus said “I am the vine”, did he mean that he sprouted leaves?
Being a child of God – for Jesus and for the rest of us – is a poetic way of describing our direct, personal engagement with Ultimate Reality. It is an artful expression of ourselves as physically integrated with the divine essence of the cosmos. Being the son or daughter of God does not mean that any of us can leap off the cross in a single bound.
On the contrary, the sacred myth of the death and resurrection of Jesus is a story of human weakness. The Romans feared anything and anybody that could disrupt civil order. Only a weak regime would feel compelled to use mass torture to maintain itself in power. The Romans were afraid of Jesus, a harmless wandering rabbi. Jesus was not Superman. His suffering on the cross was so terrible that he cried out that God had forsaken him. His disciples scattered in a panic. Yet the love that led Jesus to preach and feed and heal lived past the cross on which he died. He knew his work might be misinterpreted as sedition against the Romans. He was willing to love, even if it cost him his life.
Jesus once said “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). It was poetry based on the myth of God’s self-identification to Moses as “I am that I am” in the burning bush at Sinai. For this perceived blasphemy, people attempted to stone Jesus to death. That time, he got away.
The myth of the Passion awakens us to who we really are: not our egos, not our personalities, not our roles in society, but the “I am” who binds us all together in a web of shared existence.
“I am” is inter-being with the life of the cosmos. It’s a love for all other beings, transcending time and space: a love that risks the cross and rolls away the stone in front of the tomb.
(“I am” crosses by Jim Burklo in the Kilgore Chapel, University Religious Center, University of Southern California)