While I draw deeply from the wells of a host of significant thinkers and writers, this is a very personal undertaking for which I bear full responsibility for any distortions or mis-use of their ideas.
I choose to use his Aramaic name – Yeshua – instead of Jesus. Jesus carries too much baggage. For some, JEE – SSUUSS!, carries too much emotional freight. Yeshua becomes a miracle wonder-worker who is ready to solve any and every problem. For others, Jesus gets immediately conflated into JesusChrist – “Christ” must be breathlessly affixed anytime Jesus is mentioned. JesusChrist becomes his proper name or Christ is seen as Jesus’ last name.
It is clear that the Christian scriptures use “Jesus” to refer to the historic person and “Christ” to refer to the experience of the continuing presence of Jesus’ spirit after his death. Catherine Keller teaches her students to add a ruach pause between Jesus and Christ. (Ruach is the Hebrew term for breath / wind / Spirit.) The term“Yeshua” comes without that baggage. I can speak of Yeshua without having to add any qualifying term (Messiah or Christ).
But, why would I want to detach the qualifier from Yeshua? Do I not believe that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God?” (Matthew 16:16, CEB)
First things first – I choose not to use the title “Messiah / Christ” because Yeshua himself did not. Instead, the Gospel authors indicated that Yeshua chose to define himself and his mission with the term “ho huios tou anthropou,” literally translated as “the son of the man.” The best translation of this term is probably “Humanity’s Child” or (with Walter Wink) “the Human One.”
Yeshua’s experience in the wilderness was a time of discernment – that is, sorting through the images of Messiah that were present in Israel during his day and rejecting them as possibilities for the fulfilling of his calling. “Messiah” conjured up what Yeshua discerned to be inappropriate understandings of God’s call – political savior (“rule all the nations of the world”), wonder worker (“jump off the temple parapet”), expedient problem solver (“turn stones to bread”). Instead, he was called to gather together a community (the basilea theou – literally, God’s reign) which was a Commonwealth of Peace and Justice, an insurrectional symbol in the face of both the Roman empire and the Jewish temple religion. Yeshua, Humanity’s Child, was offering the world a new understanding of what it means to be human – defined by individual wholeness and community solidarity rather than a structured order maintained by the political, social, and religious elite. It is not surprising then that Yeshua’s calling the poor and marginalized members of society into a socialized, politicized, and theological community of equals so disrupted the elite that they conspired in his death.
While eliminating a charismatic leader often sabotages and disempowers a once dynamic movement, the death of Yeshua only achieved the intended result for a very short time. Before long the dispirited band of Yeshua’s followers, now scattering, began to experience something rather remarkable. Yeshua seemed to be present to them, not only in memory but as an almost palpable spirit. Yeshua’s absence was no longer a detriment, a sign of defeat. Now his absence was a gracious gift – that which he lived and taught (some times called the Way of Yeshua) was still an option which they could exercise. And, when they chose to follow in that Way, it was as if Yeshua’s spirit buoyed them up, supported them, and continued to teach them.
It was this continued sense of presence that was named the risen (resurrected) Christ. When they (and we) looked back at Yeshua’s teachings, they remembered that he had taught them that God (and the basilea theou) was always with them, in their midst, within them. Just as healing came from within (“your faith has made you whole”), so also the healing of the soul (salvation) came from within. Yeshua transformed the long awaited Messiah into an inner dynamic of faithfulness (what Herman Waetjen calls “trust into trust”) which I choose to call the messianic process which is available to all.
So, do I believe that Yeshua is “the Christ, the Son of the living God?” All I can say is that I, like the embryonic Christian community after Yeshua’s death, experience a presence in my life that calls me into the Way of Yeshua – into a life of compassion, peace, and justice. It keeps me on the journey toward deep community with those who (like me) are moving into and through the Way, toward personal wholeness (peace), solidarity with others (compassion), and care for the creation (justice). That Way often puts me at odds with political systems and leaders, antipathetic with social norms, and distressed with theological positions and practices of the church. I begin to understand what Luther mean when he said, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”