Jesus’ Answer to God — Elizabeth Boyden Howes

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 1.45.55 AMHowes, Elizabeth Boyden, Jesus’ Answer to God (Guild for Psychological Studies Publishing House, 1984)

Most often, those studying the Gospels and Yeshua’s life, ministry, and teachings focus on Jesus’ answer to humankind — that is, what did he do for us. Howes, a New Testament scholar who also studied with Fritz Kunkel and Carl Jung, turns the process inside-out and upside-down. By a thorough-going study of the synoptic Gospels, infused with an understanding of Archetypes and other Jungian concepts, Howes attempts to decipher Yeshua’s relationship with God — that is, how Jesus understood his call and mission. Howes paints a different picture from so much of traditional understandings about Yeshua.

The key is understanding the ground of Yeshua’s call is found in his baptism and wilderness experiences. Yeshua went into the waters of the Jordan like his Jewish compatriots — probably a combination of repentance, obedience, and confusion. He emerged from those waters with a deep commitment to God and a growing sense of call. The wilderness experience depicts Yeshua’s confronting each of the current understandings of Messiah that were present in the thinking of the Israelite people. He rejects each of them.

Throughout his ministry, Yeshua encounters the attempts to pin the label of “Messiah” on him. He resists those attempts, striving instead to help the common people understand that the messiah (messianic* dynamic) was within them. For example, Yeshua does not take credit for healing others; instead, he credits the faith of the person healed, of that person’s friends or family, of the disciples. A few words from Howes:

Christianity has historicized (or made literal) the inner mythic elements Jesus lived and taught, and therefore there has been a mythologizing of the history of that man. … Jesus lived his own inner myth as the immanent expression of God transcendent and incorporated it into his personal history, and taught others how to live their history. (page iv) In the wilderness, the Holy Spirit revealed itself to [Jesus] as the core resource and manifestation of God within his humanity. … The true Messianic process behind the hoped-for Messiah might be described as the Holy Spirit working within. … He knew that he would serve God and God only in some unspecified way (which could be called the resurrected life). … He did not know specifically what God’s will for him would be. (page 22)

[Mark 4:26-29] describes the possibility of the Kingdom of God growing slowly in a natural, evolutionary way. … There is no mention here of any Messianic agent, which throws great light on the Messianic function as process, not as a “who.” (page 88) 

“To sell all” — three simple words … This “all” then is one thing … To sell the “all,” the one thing, means to renounce that right to choose specificity of one’s own desire and to let oneself be molded by the Patterning of the moment. It is as if our life were on loan. we can either take it and run away to shape it as we will, or we turn it back to its Source in a volitional act of choice which makes us co-creators with the process of God. (page 88f)

Jesus’ Answer to God has been one of the most refreshing and challenging books I have read regarding New Testament studies.

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