What follows are a few points on the person of Jesus Christ, provided to introduce the reader to some elements of Jesus’ life and ministry, but not at all intended to be the complete picture. Some links to further material have been provided at the end of this article, in the hope that the reader will explore further as time and opportunity allow.
The topic of “Jesus” can be approached from several different angles. We could discuss who he is, what he did, what he said, or the impact that he had, and much more besides. Here we will concern ourselves primarily with who he is, particularly in relation to the account of salvation history as found in the Old Testament. We will then touch briefly on his ministry, and finally on what happened to him.
Who is Jesus and how does he impact on our lives?
Jesus Christ is the incarnate Son of God. That is to say: he is the Second Person of the Trinity born as a human being (‘incarnate’: literally ‘made flesh’), fully human and fully divine.
The incarnation did not just happen ‘out of the blue’. Since the dawn of humanity, human beings have sought to understand who they are and to comprehend their place in the universe. We are unique as creatures from this point of view. We can be here and now in a particular place and time, while completely caught up through our desire, imagination and intellect in times and spaces well beyond us. In one way or another, all major religious movements seek to make sense of this interplay between daily experience and the universe beyond, between the immanent and the transcendent, and between the human and the divine.
It is the Christian conviction that the human and the divine come together in Jesus. For us, these categories are not mutually exclusive. That is to say, while God is beyond us, God is also accessible to us. This means that, for the Christian, to enter into a relationship with God, we do not need to leave our lives and our world behind. We enter the transcendent by contemplating the immanent. God is here, and God is one of us.
It is Jesus who makes this possible. By bringing together the human and the divine in himself, the human can no longer be thought of as an obstacle to the divine. In Jesus, we see that God can be found in each of our lives, as they are. To put it another way: nothing that is part of your life and experience is outside of your relationship with God. Among other things, this will have significant implications when we come to contemplate questions related to Christian spirituality, our ethical and moral teaching, sacraments, liturgy and social justice.
Jesus, the Sacrament of God
A sacrament is the physical embodiment of a spiritual reality. As such, it is the strongest type of symbol the human being can experience. Symbols are tangible signs that communicate something much deeper and more real than themselves. However, unlike symbols, sacraments not only communicate something beyond themselves but that ‘something’ is the very life and power of God.
In an authentic sense, Jesus is a sacrament. That needs some explaining. An early insight of Jesus’ followers was that Jesus is the very embodiment of God’s love in human history. That is to say, their answer to the question ‘what is God like?’ was to look at the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus makes present the God whose presence is often hard to define and locate. He makes tangible the God who is spirit. He makes comprehensible the God who is infinite. Jesus is God made human; God made flesh. Therefore we can say that Jesus is the ‘sacrament’ of God. It is essential that we understand this – for without it our later discussion on the sacramentality of the Church and the seven sacraments of the Church has no context. The sacraments are only of any effect because of the paradigm that God sets up in the person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, we are shown that God delights in manifesting himself in and through the physical. There is no distance between the physical and the spiritual in the Catholic experience. The point cannot be reiterated enough: in Jesus, we experience the primary meaning of the term ‘sacrament’. But that raises the question: what happens to the physical presence of God in Jesus once Jesus ascends to heaven? That question will be addressed in our later discussion on the Church.
Jesus and the Old Testament
By bringing together the human and divine in this way, Jesus is the fulfilment of the promises made in the Old Testament.
The Old Testament provides the account of one people’s encounter with God over an extended period. One way to think of it is as the spiritual diary of a people, as they seek to make sense of their experience of God and to learn from their attempts to live in response to God. Through a long series of events and the teaching of many holy men and women, we witness in those early stories and events God’s desire to reach out to and lead this people. And we see their ongoing struggle to understand what God was asking of them. While the details are different, their story is our story.
The Old Testament is like the extended prelude to a great symphony: the preparation for the pivotal moment of God’s communication to humanity: when God becomes one of us so we can finally see and comprehend who God really is, and what God is offering us. This ultimate communication from God to us comes in the form of Jesus Christ: through his person, the events of his life and death, and his teaching.
Catholics have no excuse for not knowing what God is like. We look at Jesus Christ, and we see God.
See also The God of the Old Testament.
New Advent: An index of various topics related to Jesus
Bishop Robert Barron: a video reviewing a book on Jesus
Catechism: On Jesus as Christ, the Son of God & Lord
Catechism: On Jesus’ incarnation and humanity
Original text by Shane Dwyer
Photo of St Damiano cross by James Coleman on Unsplash
Fr Anthony Mellor, 30 October 2019
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Brisbane, 30 October 2019
30 October 2019