The name itself is singular. The very core idea inherent in the word eponymous is in him epitomized. I care not who you are, what tortuous and convoluted epistemology you may espouse, you can’t get beyond Jesus. You can’t manage to delete him, or even to diminish him. He’s the crown jewel of the entire religious imagination, the zenith of the whole genre, and religion will never top him. No further religious evolution will improve upon Jesus. This is so despite the fact that we don’t really know exactly who he was, at the end of the quest for his historical identity. Never mind the obvious disharmony of the four canonical gospels, the insurmountable difficulty of pinning him down, the undeniable assertion that there are myriad versions of him afloat out there—all this and so much more that makes him so elusive. He remains somehow the sum total of our grand adventure on this obscure and beleaguered dark planet, the high point of the plot, the best that homo sapiens has produced. He is at once man as god and god seen as human. Turns out that the incarnation is you and me apotheosized. If he never existed, we would have to invent him.
And now we celebrate his birthday, on this absurd date in mid-winter. Somebody stole this one from Mithras, long ago as the new religion dawned upon us, the strange cannibalistic cult that Constantine conjured up, decided to make legal. Other dates were purloined from the pagan calendar, other customs added. Whoever Jesus was, they were already trying to institutionalize him.
Jesus is the left hand of God, the first heretic. God himself letting it all hang out, having a little fun behind the scenes. Undermining all his previous agenda. Providing in Jesus a way to escape the rigidity, the moralism, the legalism, the literalism inherent in the very idea of “religion.” (the word means to tie or bind up). Jesus came to untie us. Do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing, he might have put it, taking his own advice. With his left hand (Jesus?) God is untying us.
The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right is a 2006 book by Rabbi Michael Lerner. In it, Lerner argues that that in order for progressive politics to survive in America, liberals must develop a respect for progressive forms of religion that can provide inspiration and a sense of "meaning" in people's lives. Lerner argues that the Religious Right seduces many well-intentioned Americans who hunger for higher purpose into supporting political candidates whose policies ultimately exacerbate the spiritual and moral vacuum that creates the desperation that makes the Religious Right appealing in the first place.
The author summarizes:
The unholy alliance of the Political Right and the Religious Right threatens to destroy the America we love. It also threatens to generate a revulsion against God and religion by identifying them with militarism, ecological irresponsibility, fundamentalist antagonism to science and rational thought, and insensitivity to the needs of the poor and the powerless. (cf Wikipedia article, The Left Hand of God)
The thing about Jesus is you can’t contain him. You can’t own him. You can’t predict what he’ll say or do next. He is in no sense a conservative, bound to some notion of ‘tradition.” Tune in to Fox News, you always know what’s coming next. You could yourself write the script for Hannity or Huckabee. They walk in lock-step. I’m suggesting not that MSNBC, but Jesus himself, is the antidote for all this, if we could ever manage to catch up to him, to read him aright.
Jesus. He’ll fool you every time. He’s like Socrates, busting it all wide open. He too wants to set you free, liber-ate you, awaken the creativity in your attitude toward tradition. Ye have heard that it has been said, but I say unto you… The Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath… I came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill the Law. Fulfill it by setting it free, moving it into Spirit: the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.
Happy Birthday, Jesus. Merry Christmas. Even if we’re still not ready for you, we follow from afar, bringing our own blend of mingled myrrh and fankincense. And we still love you, all of us, each in her own way.