A Profound Relationship

A Profound Relationship February 20, 2024

My news feed and my pastor friends are all talking about the “He Gets Us” ad that was played during the Superbowl this year. I am not a football fan and therefore did not see the ad, though I have seen enough clips of the ad and have read enough commentary to get the idea behind the ad.  

A Christology Primer 

The fancy study of Jesus and his divinity is known as Christology. Scholars and thinkers since around 100 years after Jesus’ death have been wrestling with Jesus’ relationship with God. Formally in 325, at the Council of Nicaea, the word homoousias would solidify the church’s position on Jesus’ relationship with God. This word translated means that Jesus and God were of the same substance. Essentially that Jesus was divine. While there were other views about who Jesus was in relationship to God, in particular Arianism, which taught that Christ was more than human but not fully divine. But homoousias won the day.  

While this moment was important in Christian history, it made everything going forwards far more difficult. Up to the Council of Nicaea, Christianity had been mostly bands of contemplatives, house churches and other varieties of Christian thought. With the Nicene Councils (there were a couple), the predominant governing bodies, both state and religious came together to spell out what people could believe. This would set the stage for centuries of human rights violations in the name of Jesus.  

Which Jesus Gets Us? 

Jesus was a nobody from nowhere, a backwater town called Nazareth. Nothing is written about him in any first-person accounts. We have no first-person accounts of his life, his teachings, or his occupations. The Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles and much of the New Testament was written 30 –70 years after his death.  

It is like telling my stories about my grandfather and his brother to my children. I am in my late forties now, I still remember the stories, but some of the memories are a bit faded. The late Calypso poet Jimmy Buffett said it best (McAnally, 1999): 

It’s a semi-true story
Believe it or not
I made up a few things
And there’s some I forgot.
But the life and the tellin’
Are both real to me
And they all run together and turn out to be
A semi-true story. 

Yes, the actual story of Jesus is a semi true story from bits and pieces of information passed down orally from one teller to the other and eventually written down in the books we now have as the New Testament.  

Jesus the First Century Jew 

First century Palestine where Jesus grew up was a bad place. Rome had taken over or had been occupying the area since 63 BCE. There was a brief period when the Maccabean family overthrew the Seleucid empire in 168 BCE. It was this memory that Judas was recollecting when he imagined Jesus being the type of king that would take over the government.  

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Jesus like everyone else not in the Roman elite was a nobody. Your life consisted of providing for the empire and trying, if possible, to provide for your family. There is speculation that Jesus and his father worked in nearby Sephora as tradesman, this may have provided the family with some financial stability, but still, Jesus was a nobody.  

To truly know what Jesus would think of us requires us to first understand that the ancient texts of the bible were not written for us modern people in mind. Secondly, we must understand who Jesus was. Jesus was a first century Palestinian Jewish male. 

 First Century Judaism 

First century Judaism was filled with many sects and schools of thought. Most notably were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Zealots, and the Essenes. A scholar and teacher, Josephus gives us the best first-person account of the first century Judaism.  

Judaism in the first century was a little different that Judaism today. According to L. Michael White (White): 

It’s not a monolithic religious or cultural entity at this time. Indeed, what we’re seeing more and more through the research and the archaeological discoveries, is how diverse Judaism was in this period. So we see different groups, such as the Sadducees and the Pharisees. We also see a number of new religious texts and new practices starting to develop. …. For example, let’s not forget that the Holy Day, the festival of Hanukkah, was a relatively new holiday celebration at the time of Jesus. It had only been around for something like a hundred years. But it shows some of the new ideas, the new experiences that Jews have had to overcome in that time. And so, we’re watching a religious tradition that is itself still going through certain changes. Some of those changes were met with a view of optimism and progress. Some people, though, might not have liked them. And so, this sets the stage for what we see as some of the tension and some of the controversy that also surrounds the temple. So the interesting thing about the temple in the days of Jesus is that on the one hand, it’s a grand, new place. It’s the center of life and worship. It’s the showpiece of Jewish tradition. And yet, it could also be a center of controversy and tension. 

The religion of Jesus, Judaism recognizes two classes of “sin”: offenses against other people, and offenses against God. Offenses against God may be understood as violation of a contract (the covenant between God and the Children of Israel). If a person does commit a sin, one must work through a variety of atonements to make right with God or the community. If you read the Gospels through the lens Jesus used as a Jewish male, the stories make more sense.  

Judaism rejects the belief in “original sin”, a core Christian doctrine. There is no binary between Jesus and us, we are all in the same boat. Both ancient and modern Judaism teaches that every person is responsible for his own actions.  

Jesus and the Unity of Being.  

I was writing over the weekend for my philosophy class, and I was working with the Muslim concept of Wahadat al Wujad. In Sufi metaphysics, their philosophy is centered on this concept which literally means ground of being. In the simplest terms, you are looking at the ist’ness versus the what’ness (essence) of something.  

In the first paragraph, I talked about the Council of Nicaea. How did we get there? I once heard the theologian John Cobb say something to the effect that Jesus and God had a such a profound relationship with God that one could not tell the difference between where Jesus ended, and divinity began. In this thought, we have what I interpret to be the notion of whadat al wujad, is it Jesus (Being) or What is Jesus (essence).  

The whatness is what separates Jesus’ Christness from my own. We are all potential seats of Christ. What Jesus did, what he possessed in his relationship with God transcends any relationship a human has had with the divine ever since. Jesus gets us because God loved us first, knows us and devoted to all of us, regardless of sex, gender, political affiliation, or religious orientation.  

I do not know if it is all true. What I do know is that Jesus was a compelling character that so stood out in the oral tradition 2000 years ago that he was written about, then debated upon and finally what started as a movement became an institution. I do believe we can gain a lot of insight from a homeless dead Jew who had a unique relationship with the Divine.  I think what Jesus would have understood is oppression and having some sort of government ruler overseeing every aspect of his life and at times making life very difficult. 



White , L. M. (n.d.). [At this time, is] Judaism a religious life that’s unified and at peace with itself? Frontline. Retrieved February 19, 2024, from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/portrait/judaism.html 

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