You could have heard those two words millions of times in the last two thousand years – that is, if you had been within hearing distance, as those who addressed you certainly believed you were.
But it’s my belief you didn’t hear them. You died on a cross and never learned anything of what happened after you breathed your last. So I write to tell you, but where to begin? Seventy years after you died one writer said, “The world could not contain all the books that could be written about you.” And if that was true after seventy years, what about two millennia later!
You have become the most widely known person in the world. And this in spite of the fact that, as my six-year old granddaughter said a few years ago, ‘You don’t hear much about Jesus these days!’
You may well be shocked to learn that within thirty years of your death you were being worshipped as divine. They began to speak of you as the Christ – the only Son of God – and refused to believe any more that you were wholly human like ourselves.
Well, some in the ancient world tried not to forget you were a human being, but they got themselves into awful verbal tangles. Finally they said you had two natures – human and divine – and these were to be “acknowledged inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably.” In view of the way you criticised the Pharisees and lawyers of your own day for their hair-splitting arguments, I suspect you would have been cuttingly derisive if you had witnessed that debate. And after philosophically analyzing your nature, they excommunicated any who disagreed with them!
After that, your humanity got lost sight of altogether. You were pictured as a stern judge on a heavenly throne, ready to pounce on all who stepped out of line. And the line was determined by the prejudices of those in power rather than in accordance with your teaching. That was largely forgotten and replaced by doctrines they created.
Actually it’s your sheer humanity that many have been rediscovering – and we find it very encouraging. Of course the way we see the world today is drastically different from what was the common view in your time. It now seems that we live in a universe almost infinite in both in space and time.
In this sort of world we haven’t much use for gods or supernatural forces. We are more interested in learning what it means to be human. That’s where you come in. Our biblical scholars have been discovering what sort of person you really were – that is, before the ancients hid you from sight behind the divine being they created to take your place.
It’s a pity there was no Boswell among your disciples. That would have helped us no end. We would very much like to know in more detail just what you actually said and did. And it seems a terrible shame that you never wrote anything yourself – except, as one report has it, in the sand.
We have to rely on what people wrote many years later, when both you and all your close friends were dead. However, we think we’ve recovered some of your genuine voiceprints – especially in your witty one-liners. I suspect that our former Prime Minister David Lange learned something from you.
Then there are those stories you told. They must have shaken your hearers out of their complacency – not only because they often had an unexpected twist at the end, but because they challenged people’s way of seeing the world. And that is why people remembered them.
The trouble is that people began to put their own thoughts into your mouth. Then, after you were turned into a god, people took everything you said, or were supposed to have said, with such deadly seriousness that they often missed the point you were originally making.
We’ve discovered you were quite a humorist, just like some of your fellow-Jews today. I think you would get on well with Woody Allen. He has a serious side to his humor, just as you did.
You will be sorry to hear that some very cruel things have been done in your name – and by the very people who were most keen to honour you. They tortured those they deemed heretics, burned the so-called witches, and even today they reject homosexuals. That is what comes of having lost sight of your humanity. They forget how you hob-nobbed with outcasts, prostitutes, and those reviled tax-collectors.
We are still a bit puzzled as to how you got on the wrong side of the Romans. Did you ever really understand that yourself? Of course, those were pretty rough times you lived in, and thousands of people met the same fate as yours.
But what a remarkable impression you left on those around you. You had only a few short years to do it, and yet you continue to inspire millions.
We still celebrate your birthday, in spite of not knowing when it was. Christmas is the most popular season of the year. It’s become quite a family occasion. I think you would like that. You taught us a great deal about personal relationships. Nonetheless, we still have trouble learning how to be neighborly, to say nothing of trying to love our enemies.
But you deserve the credit for all the peace and good will that prevails at Christmas. It’s really true, as many say, that your spirit keeps on coming alive in us.
Actually you are the one who, though indirectly, brought the modern world into being. It isn’t perfect by a long chalk. But it’s the nearest we have yet gotten to the kind of Kingdom you talked about. We care for the sick. We have freed the slaves. We draw attention to human rights. And we have finally come to do lots more.
So I write this on behalf of your innumerable fans around the world. We thank you for what you achieved in those few short years. May your influence live forever!