The Son of Man

We can make Jesus Christ too small sometimes and thus limit his mission and power. That’s what his disciples seem to do in Mark’s  gospel.

“John said to Jesus,

‘Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name,

and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.’”(Mark 9,38)

Someone is doing good, but the disciples don’t know him. He doesn’t belong to their “church.” He’s doing what Jesus would do–in this case casting out demons. We might say he’s acting like a Christian, but he’s not Christian.

“Whoever is not against us is for us,” Jesus says. In other words, anyone acting as I would, thinking as I would, belongs with me, and “they will surely not lose their reward.”

Is this a reminder today for us  who so often fail to recognize the goodness and truth in others because they don’t belong to our church, or nation, or political party, or school, or are just not like us?  It’s seems so, especially in our polarized world, where we increasingly define others by differences instead of what we have in common.

Jesus tells us, as he did his disciples, to see how others are with us, rather than against us.  Look for the truth we share, even in someone we may oppose, for we  share a common nature and a common humanity. We’re human beings made in the image and likeness of God.

That’s what Jesus did. He welcomed others, even those people shunned– lepers, tax-collectors, sinners– outcasts in their day. He was open to all, even his enemies. He welcomed them and was at home with them.

It’s interesting to notice in the gospels how often Jesus seems to shy away from titles that could distance him from others.  “Who do people say I am?” he asks his disciples at one point. “They said in reply, ‘John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ Then he said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter said in reply, ‘The Christ of God.’” (Luke 9,18-22)

Yet, Jesus is hesitant to accept these titles for himself publically.  The one title he seems to prefer is “the Son of Man.”

“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9,22)

“ The birds of the air have their nests, the foxes have their dens, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Scholars can’t say exactly what Jesus means when he calls himself “the Son of Man,” only a couple of references are found in the Old Testament (Daniel) and in Jewish literature, but not enough to indicate its precise meaning. There seems to be no doubt, however, that Jesus did indeed refer to himself as “the Son of Man.”

Some say the best approach is to look at what the words obviously say. “I’m the son of man,” Jesus says;  in other words “I’m a human being.” Can we say that Jesus preferred to present himself in his humanity, rather than his divinity? He came to live among us, not as a divine being, but as a human being, someone like us. Human, he experienced life as we do; he knows suffering and death as we do. To restore our humanity, to show what it means to be human, Jesus became “the Son of Man.”

There’s a beautiful crucifix in the chapel where I live now, in Jamaica, New York, a five foot wood carving of Jesus from 15th century Germany.  It bears the wear and tear of the years. Jesus is clearly human, stripped of any sign of his divinity, his head bowed in death. It’s hard to see if he’s white, or black or Asian. He could be any of them. To me he’s the “Son of Man.”

The crucifix has an interesting history. It was given to one of our priests by the Catholic bishops of Germany and Austria after the 2nd World War when Germany was in shambles, its cities in ruins and its people crushed. They were our enemies. The crucifix was from the ruins of a German church.

The priest was in charge of Catholic Relief, one of the agencies that helped get that country on its feet again, and to me the crucifix seems to represent the bishops’ thanks for this recognition of our common humanity. The Son of Man came to reconcile and restore, not to destroy.  That’s what Jesus did.

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