This semester I’ve been teaching a unit called Who is Jesus? It’s been a good class and we’ve had a good time together. Now I’ve finished the assessments and as always I feel that I have learned a lot from the students, as well as them learning something from me (I hope). It is so exciting when you see people come alive with some new insight or sense of meaning for their lives. That’s what I call a Jesus moment.
The unit title uses the present tense, because we are interested not only in who Jesus was, but in the significance of his life and his presence, in many different ways, here and now.
During this unit, students are asked to engage with a wide range of materials, including a number of chapters from Thomas Rausch’s excellent book Who is Jesus? (Liturgical Press, 2003).
In this book, Rausch presents excellent summaries of the various New Testament portraits of Jesus. One thing that is very impressive is his summary of the preaching of Jesus about the ‘kingdom’ or reign of God. But the Gospel writers are not only interested in this as a message or a theme: they want to show us, Rausch says, that this new way, this ‘kingdom’, is actually present in and with and through Jesus. This is an astonishing thought: ‘to encounter Jesus is to encounter God’s reign’ (p.90).
It is true, there is something a bit ambiguous here, because there is also a future or predictive sense of this claim. The reign of God is not ‘complete’ yet: the justice, peace, comfort, healing and goodness that Jesus announces are not yet fully come. And they are announced as such.
The critical aspect here has something to do with our word ‘anticipation’. There is an important sense in which we can expect what is happening, respond to its happening and in that response become part of the happening. It is like this when we are assisting someone in a complex task. My wife speaks of assistants in the medical theatre. The really good assistants know the procedure, and are also smart enough to see what is happening, and so are ready for the next step of an operation, with the instrument or other thing that the surgeon or anaesthetist will need. They anticipate the event and help to make it happen.
This I think is how it was and is with Jesus: in his presence, people sensed a new age, a new order of things, coming about and so they reached out in faith and hope for that reality.
So too it can be for what we call ‘the church’—any community of people who want to meet with what Jesus taught and promised. In doing that we can meet with him, and our meals can become a meal with him and our lives find something of the new reality he announced.
This, I believe, is what Christian hope means. It is not believing in a different world at some impossible time in the future. It is about anticipating that world here and now and becoming part of it. Hope is not wishful thinking. Hope has hands and feet, and expresses itself in deeds of care, giving, planning and even struggle, and in this way also it is a form of meeting with Jesus.