Emmanuel: When Christians identify Jesus as Emmanuel (God-with-us) we are linking God to the groaning of all creation.
The gospels tell of the human Jesus, who healed and cared for others, emphasizing God’s compassion for all people.
Then this Jesus, crucified but risen, was experienced by the community of disciples.
To interpret the meaning of Jesus in the light of Easter, the disciples began drawing on different metaphors and figures from the Jewish scriptures – Messiah, Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Wisdom, Logos/Word.
Wisdom: In the Jewish tradition, Wisdom is present with God in the creation (and in the governing) of the world. This is an ancient way of imaging the creative and saving presence of God within the world.
Biblical language about Wisdom (Sophia) is closely related to language about the Word (Logos) – which gave early Christians words to describe the unique significance of Jesus in relation to God and human beings.
The prologue to John’s Gospel (1:1-14) describes Jesus as the coming of God’s personal Word, full of loving-kindness and faithfulness, into the world. The text expresses the belief that the living God, who is utterly beyond comprehension, joined the flesh of earth in one particular human being of one time and place. This belief would come to be called the doctrine of incarnation (carne, flesh).
Sarx: Johnson notes that in John’s prologue the Word did not become a human being (anthropos), or a man (aner), but flesh (sarx).
Here sarx conveys not the unworthiness or sinfulness of the material world, but but its finite quality – fragile, vulnerable, transitory – the opposite of divinity clothed in majesty.
The kind of sarx that the Word became was human flesh; but the sarx of homo sapiens is part of an interconnected whole, an intrinsic part of the evolutionary network of life on our planet.
Deep incarnation: Theologians are beginning to use the phrase ‘deep incarnation’ to describe God’s reach through human flesh into the very tissue of biological existence – and therefore into the wider processes of evolving nature.
This view arises from the logic of John’s prologue, and arises from today’s scientific understanding of the world. (Niels Greggersen, The Cross of Christ in an Evolutionary World)
The incarnation is a cosmic event: in becoming flesh the transcendent Word of God lays hold of matter in the form of a human being, a species in which matter has become conscious of itself. ‘Deep incarnation’ understands that Jesus’ sarx not only links him to other human beings; it also joins him (and us) to the whole biological world of living creatures and the cosmic dust of which they are composed.
Karl Rahner wrote, “The statement of God’s incarnation – of God’s becoming material – is the most basic statement of Christology.” Hence “the climax of salvation history is not the detachment from earth of the human being as spirit in order to come to God, but the descending and irreversible entrance of God into the world, the coming of the divine logos in the flesh…(Rahner, Christology Within an Evolutionary View)
Teilhard de Chardin saw the incarnation as the densely specific expression of God’s love (already poured out in creation) conferring a new form of God’s nearness to all of Earth’s creatures. In Jesus God’s own self-expressive Word joins the biological world as a member of the human race, and thus enters into solidarity with the whole biophysical cosmos of which humans are a part. (Teilhard de Chardin, Hymn of the Universe)
The ‘Christic paradigm’:
The gospels give details about Jesus that help us flesh out the meaning of incarnation, and at the same time reveal God’s desire for the flourishing of all people.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus taught that God’s compassionate love is extravagant – transgressing all cultural and religious concepts about fairness – in order to reach every last hurt or rebellious sufferer.
Interpreting the gospels with our contemporary ecological concern raises the question of whether this ‘good news’ includes the earth and its other-than-human creatures.
The creation faith of Israel was a part of Jesus’ (and his disciples’) worldview. Therefore, Jesus’ proclamation that the reign of God was near assumed the natural world was included in this ‘good news’.
Set within a agrarian culture, Jesus’ parables were salted with reference to seeds and harvests, wheat and weeds, vineyards and fruit trees, rain and sunsets, sheep and nesting birds.
A ‘spiritual’ savior? For someone subsequently interpreted mainly as a spiritual Savior, it is remarkable how strongly Jesus’ characteristic deeds focused on bodily wellness. The dualism of later Christian tradition that separated spirit from body was not seen in Jesus’ ministry.
Compassionate love is the meaning of it all: With our new evolutionary awareness, the gospel now takes on an ecological dimension. Theologian Sallie McFague brings various gospel episodes together into a brief phrase she calls the ‘Christic paradigm’: “liberating, healing, and inclusive love is the meaning of it all”. (Sallie McFague, The Body of God)
Christians trust that Jesus’ love reveals the ineffable compassion of God.
Jesus’ ministry demonstrates God’s compassion for all bodies in creation – not just humans.
This compassionate Love is deeply embedded in human life – and at the heart of the universe itself.
Tomorrow – we look at ‘The Cross and the Tree of Life’