Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Compare and contrast

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
C.S.Lewis, Mere Christianity

The secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn't allow you that. He doesn't let you off that hook. Christ says:No. I'm not saying I'm a teacher, don't call me teacher. I'm not saying I'm a prophet. I'm saying "I'm the Messiah." I'm saying: "I am God incarnate." And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You're a bit eccentric. We've had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don't mention the "M" word! Because, you know, we're gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you're expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says:Oh, my God, he's gonna keep saying this. So what you're left with is: either Christ was who He said He was - the Messiah - or a complete nutcase. I mean, we're talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we've been talking about earlier [suicide bombers]... I'm not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that's farfetched ...

Bono on Bono: Conversations with Michka Assayas, Hodder and Stoughton, 2005
My twopence worth. Bono hasn't got it quite right about 1st Century Jewish culture - actually, the idea of the Messiah/Christ (they are the same concept in different languages) was fundamentally a military leader at the time - and what Jesus was saying was that this idea was wrong - that the Messiah would rule through his own sacrifice, and the fact that this didn't fit in with the nationalistic expectations of the Jews was what led to his crucifixion. The Jews at the time had no problem with the idea of the Messiah (though they didn't understand what the Messiah was actually going to do): their problem was whether or not Jesus was the Christ. Note that "Christ" isn't Jesus' surname - it's more a job description.

Today, we have another problem. Most westerners know that the words "Jesus" and "Christ" go together. We just don't know what the "Christ" is. That's what Christians have to try and get across.