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Messiah? No

 

The terms messiah and messianism have, of late, been resurrected in the political sphere. For some, Trump is the second messiah, come to liberate us from the devilish democratic cabal who eat children and worship satan,  thereby creating the kingdom of god as envisioned by heartless, authoritarian Republicans. On the other side of the world, some defer to Putin as the messiah who is come to destroy the satanic West and recreate the Empire of Mother Russia. In either case, the power to create the new order is the prerogative of the Chosen One, the agent of god, the messiah.

This messianic view has a long history in Judaism, and during the time of Jesus there were various interpretations of the messianic role. Was he a High Priest? a military leader? Short of being divine himself, he was seen as an agent of god, who would return in the future with power to judge, reward, punish and destroy. Although most of Christianity has ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth the title Messiah, translated as Christ in the Greek, it seems highly unlikely that Jesus ever thought of himself in these terms. It is clear, however, that the church very early did begin to think of him in those terms, a transition with profound and grave effects.

I have written many times about how Jesus did not give in to the temptation to develop a perception of the world that is so egocentric that it cuts us off from reality, a temptation to which the rest of us readily succumb. How and why this man appeared and manifested before us what it meant to be truly and lovingly human, is a mystery beyond understanding. But the point is that he showed that the power to change both ourselves and society lay not in a unique agent of god with a drawn sword in his hand, but in our own enlightenment and commitment to be truly loving human beings. In the absolutely best sense of the words, Jesus proclaimed a lifestyle of the people, by the people, and for the people, and not an apocalypse created by a messiah-christ. 

The revolutionary perspective proclaimed by Jesus totally threatened the interests of those who profited from their oppression of the poor, and so they crucified the leader of the movement. This maneuver failed, however, and Jesus’ followers increased in number as the century wore on. The next tactic employed by the rich and powerful was to pervert his message such that the followers no longer saw themselves as agents of change empowered by his spirit, but rather saw themselves as waiting for him to return in the future, descending from the clouds, sword in hand, the expected messiah-christ sent by god. 

 Peter’s fabricated “confession” [“You are the Christ”] to the contrary notwithstanding, Jesus of Nazareth was not a messiah, and not a Christ, but he was, I believe, sent by God to show us what it means to be true to our own self. I do not understand him to be the only one so enlightened, nor do I pretend to understand this sender-God, other than as the love that inheres in the universe. But there is a huge difference between locating the power of progressive change in the people as opposed to locating it in a singular messianic agent. Of course, the dictators and would-be dictators of today want to be seen as christ figures elevated above the masses and having power over them, thereby stripping the people of their sense of worth. Jesus showed us what it meant to be human, and for that he was murdered. Those today who would be seen as a modern day messiah must be exposed for what they are, and that is the enemy of what love would have us be.

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Dr. Carl Krieg received his BA from Dartmouth College, MDiv from Union Theological Seminary in NYC, and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is the author of What to Believe? the Questions of Christian Faith,   The Void and the Vision and  The New Matrix: How the World We Live In Impacts Our Thinking About Self and God. As professor and pastor, Dr. Krieg has taught innumerable classes and led many discussion groups. He lives with his wife Margaret in Norwich, VT.

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