Welcome to Jesus Unmasked! Formerly known as the “Girardian Virtual Bible Study,” “Jesus Unmasked” is a weekly exploration of scripture that delves into Jesus’s life and teachings. Over the centuries, Jesus has been obscured by prejudice and bigotry. God in flesh, crucified by human violence, has been invoked to inflict ever more violence on others. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and prejudice against people of other faiths have all been waged in the name of Jesus. These forms of fear and hatred are masks that obscure the truth: that Jesus is Love Embodied. We seek to pull back the masks that hide and distort Jesus, reveal his love, and follow in his way. We unmask Jesus even as Jesus unmasks us, lifting the blinders of prejudice from our own eyes. We welcome you to join us live, Wednesdays at 10:30 AM CT, on the Raven Foundation Facebook page. This episode explores Proverbs 8:1-4 & 22-31 and John 16:12-15.
The Urgency of Unmasking Jesus
Unmasking Jesus is urgent and vital. People are hurting others, and hurting themselves, due to an understanding of Jesus steeped in fear, hatred, and lies. Scripture can be and has been weaponized and wielded as a cudgel of condemnation, and Jesus himself has been weaponized. This must stop. For Jesus came to lead us out of violence and death into the truth of God’s universal, unconditional love.
The Bible is, after all, a story about violence. The question is: what is the story about violence that the Bible is telling? If the Bible is telling the story of a violent, angry God, to whom Jesus paid the price of our sins with a gruesome, violent death, then the weaponization of Jesus to shame and blame and punish others is the logical outcome. But if the Bible is telling a story about bringing humanity out of our violence into peace, out of our fear into understanding, out of our rivalries into community, then the weaponization of Jesus is a sin against the Holy Spirit.
How do we know how to read scripture as a story of the transformation of our violence into love? Jesus himself shows us. He read the scriptures that came before him through a lens of mercy, not sacrifice. And he lived a life of active love that welcomed the outcast, healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, and set the captives free. All who were shunned, excluded, and marginalized because of exclusive interpretations of the law and a sacrificial interpretation of God, Jesus welcomed them, embraced them, loved them, and called them first in God’s Kingdom.
So when Christians marginalize, exclude, condemn, and demonize people for any reason, we are not following the way of Jesus. In fact, we are twisting his message, distorting his life’s example, and showing ourselves to be in need of his work on our hearts.
Earlier this week, Adam received a desperate message from a woman afraid for a transgender friend on the verge of suicide. The woman speaking to Adam said that her friend had been harassed by a coworker who, in the name of Jesus, had told her that she was an abomination destined for hell because of who she is. In response to the hatred and vitriol she received, this woman had seriously considered taking her life. Later, Adam learned that she had been found safe, and we pray that she is still safe now. But we must do more than pray. We must boldly proclaim God’s unconditional love. We must disarm the scriptures and use them as tools to build a just, equitable world in which we all know that we are loved. We must unmask Jesus.
We are approaching Trinity Sunday, one of my favorite Sundays of the year. But it wasn’t always one of my favorites. The doctrine of the Trinity scared me as a child, because it was hard to understand and therefore hard to believe. I saw it as a gateway, a litmus test for faith that I didn’t know if I could pass. And it has been used that way – as a tool to exclude ‘heretics” or those lacking “correct doctrine.” The use of the Trinity to exclude is another mask that obscures Jesus and obstructs our vision of God’s love.
But the use of the Trinity to exclude is tragic irony, for the Trinity itself is God’s all-inclusive Love. It is not faulty math and it is definitely not a litmus test. Rather, it is perfect relationship.
The Trinity is a dance of Love. Love is not a static force or an isolated entity. Rather, it is ever-flowing, dynamic, fluid. Love must have a Lover and a Beloved to exist. When we know God as Loving Relationship, we can experience the Love of God that ever flows between God the Father and God the Son.
Proverbs 8: 1-4 & 22-31
And that’s what Proverbs 8 is all about. This passage is believed by some scholars to be the voice of pre-incarnational Jesus, who, after all, was “with God from the beginning.” Wisdom claims, “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.” This sounds very much like “The Word” in John, through whom all things are made. The language of Proverbs isn’t quite that of the creeds, and the word “created” causes debate as to whether or not this is Jesus (“begotten, not made”), but Adam points out the Hebrew word for wisdom, “chokmah,” is an aspect of God, inseparable from God. This is language of loving relationship with God – within God – from the very beginning.
And there are two very beautiful things about this passage. The first is that “Wisdom” is feminine, and thus we see, in a text chosen for Trinity Sunday to illustrate the nature of God, the Divine Feminine within the Holy Trinity. For anyone who has felt estranged from God because God is so often defined only in masculine language, Proverbs 8 shows that God encompasses woman as well as man. Male and female – and all in between and beyond – are made in God’s image. God transcends but also encompasses gender… all genders. So in the patriarchal world in which the scriptures were recited and transcribed, the Wisdom of God subverts the patriarchal culture. The exclusive association of God with men is harmful, for it circumscribes gender roles in ways that narrow all we can be. So it’s time to remove the mask of patriarchy from our understanding of God, and God in her infinite Wisdom does this in Proverbs 8.
The second beautiful thing about this chapter in Proverbs is the sheer and utter joy with which Wisdom speaks. “I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” As one who has felt small and alone worrying about angering God, these words are music to my ears. The Wisdom of God delights in us! God delights in you! This is the message Wisdom shouts from the mountaintops and the street corners, reverberating throughout the world, reaching us even when we try to hide ourselves away: WE ARE LOVED! God loves us in all of our strength and weaknesses, in all of our quirks and idiosyncrasies. Moreover, God rejoices in us! The love of God is not an abstract or meaningless; it is active, vibrant, powerful. Wisdom tells us this, because to know ourselves in God’s love is to be firmly rooted in an identity that doesn’t depend on rivalry – doesn’t depend on forming ourselves over and against others. Knowing that God delights in the human race is to know that we are all loved, and therefore we find ourselves not over and against one another but with each other, wrapped up in an eternal embrace of Love.
John 16: 12 – 15
“The Truth… You can’t handle the Truth… yet,” Jesus essentially says. He says this to his disciples just before he is crucified. He is crucified by people who are certain of the truth, certain of the truth that Jesus is a sinner and a blasphemer because he has dared to show a love of God that is all-inclusive, even of enemies. Inclusive even of the despised and rejected. Inclusive of those who had been excluded so that the community might know itself by those it was not.
People who condemned Jesus thought they knew the truth. They thought they knew the truth about God – they thought God commanded death. They thought they knew the truth about Rome and the way Rome crushes uprisings, and how “It is better for one man to die than for the whole nation to perish.” They thought they knew the truth about the world, that this is a violent place and that only violence can save from violence. People still think that today. People live by a lie so pervasive that it’s accepted as common truth – that in this world, it is kill or be killed.
Today, many people still wield the “truth” as a weapon. They to claim exclusive understanding of God and draw boundaries of who is in and who is out. They condemn people of other races, nationalities, gender identities, sexualities and religions in the name of “truth.”
The weaponization and distortion of the truth has been the death of many. But the real truth, the truth that the Holy Spirit pours out upon the whole world, is that Love gives Life. The violence we wield against one another as we struggle to assert ourselves at another’s expense is a deadly lie. The truth is that we are made in connection to one another, we need each other, and we will only find ourselves when we recognize all of us enfolded together in God’s love.
Acting on the Truth
And to magnify the truth of God’s love for all in a world of injustice, we must boldly show our solidarity with those who have been told that God’s love excludes them. In practice, that means we support gay pride parades and call out the hurt caused by straight pride parades. It means we affirm that Black Lives Matter, because while every life is precious, it is black people who have been treated as if their lives don’t matter. To love everyone means to pay particular attention to those who are most vulnerable, those who have been most hurt by the lies and the distortion of the Holy Spirit’s truth.
It is also to humble ourselves, to open ourselves to the possibility that we can be wrong, to let ourselves be corrected. The Truth of God’s universal, unconditional love is not up for debate. But I know I will fall short in following and embodying that love, and that is where I am open to correction. That is where we are called to gently and firmly hold ourselves and each other accountable. How do we best love one another?
For it is in loving one another that we are pulled into the eternal dance of Love that is God. The Love that continually flows between God the Father and God the Son, between The Creator and the Wisdom Through Whom All Is Created, that Love is the Holy Spirit that draws us into the eternal Life of God. As we Love one another, we find our truest selves in the Triune Love in whom we live and move and have our being.
Editor’s Note: Next week, the Spirit calls us elsewhere and we will be unavailable. Jesus Unmasked will continue on June 26th at 10:30 AM CT on the Raven Foundation FB page. Join us then!