The question of whether or not Jesus is God doesn’t interest me very much. I’ve thought about it, and more importantly, prayed about it. My answer is no. Here ends this week’s blog about this week’s theme, but here begins a blog about the question I find far more interesting: Why does it matter so much to us that Jesus is God?
I think this keeps coming up because we’re a competitive species, a trait that gets worse when we feel threatened, and seems to have reached a peak in the modern, Western world. So much of our sense of self revolves around what we have, which includes more than material goods. For example, I had a phone conversation with a new acquaintance a few weeks ago. During her part of the “get to know you” chat she started what I call the Peacock Dance. My new acquaintance is from the East Coast, so her version of the dance began when she breezily told me where she’d gone to college and grad school, the name of the exclusive magazine where she’d once worked as the assistant to a very famous editor, her husband’s high powered job that enabled them to live in several large metropolises on two continents, the name of her high powered agent, and the editor to whom she’d sold her first trilogy.
Wham! Feathers up, and whoa, honey, see my pretty colors! Check out this plumage, yeah, baby!
Now, everyone knows these dance steps, even if our feathers aren’t as long or elegant. I could match her education. I’ve lived in several big cities, and I also have an agent, but not her book deal, her backpacking trips through Europe and Asia, or any of the other things she so casually threw out. Like any other species, the steps of this dance vary by region. This was the East Coast version of the dance. But lest we think it’s a “big city” trait, harbored by people lacking in solid Midwestern values, I met a woman on the playground a couple of weeks ago who moved here from another state. Why, she wondered, do people in Omaha care so much about which neighborhood they live in and what school district their kids go to? They’re so very house focused, she said, not at all approvingly. It’s the Peacock Dance, Omaha-style. New Yorkers ignore everyone living between the Hudson River and the California border. Nebraskans make fun of Iowans. Iowans ridicule people from Missouri. I don’t know what Missourians do. Maybe it all ends with Missouri.
Oftentimes people’s plumage stays low to the ground, somewhat hidden, but at the first sign of threat, the feathers come up and spread so we can all compare our greens and blues, the length of our feathers. I think the Jesus is God thing is part of the peacock dance, played out on a spiritual stage. Your teacher is fine, your prophet may have some important insights, that Buddha guy certainly knew his way around meditation, but Jesus is God. Trump card. Jesus is GOD! It’s the Harvard of religion. It’s the Goldman Sachs of spirituality. It’s the Tiffany-engagement-ring-in-a-pretty-blue-box of salvation.
It’s bringing Jesus, and God, down to our human level. As Bruce said in this week’s materials, it’s idolatry, just as we idolize cars, houses, school districts, clothes, jewelry, educations, jobs, second homes, vacations, insert your own personal feather here. As if equating “our prophet”, “our teacher” Jesus with God makes our religion better than the others, or makes us better than anyone else, or even just okay.
This is a human need, to use something we “possess” to drape ourselves in importance and security. It’s not a divine need. God needs no ornamentation, and Jesus does okay on his own, the more so if we’re not running around, bragging him up, down, and sideways. What’s more, God’s immense love and grace are freely given to us, regardless of how we rank God, or God’s messengers, or even how we rank compared to the rest of the world. But we like to dress things up in fancy robes and halos, headdresses and incense, titles like Prince of Peace, Son of God, Only Begotten Son, as if words are the item they name or describe.
What do you think Jesus would have thought of being used as a feather in our plumage? He’d probably listen, smile, and wander off into a quiet corner to pray for us, because endless focusing on Jesus is God means we missed the point. What mattered to Jesus was God, discerning God’s will, asking for the strength to walk that path. In the end, that should be what matters to us. Not Jesus’s identity, or whatever identity we glean from our pretty, earthly feathers.