As a single guy who is not opposed to meeting someone special, I take occasional forays onto dating apps. As a man of faith, app algorithms often suggest a woman of faith as a potential match. Quite often, these women will say they are looking for a man who loves Jesus. When I see that I often respond with something along the lines of, “I’m curious, who is Jesus to you?”
Why “Who Is Jesus?” Matters
I ask that because I have held two distinctly contradictory answers to that question in my lifetime. Just a decade ago, if you asked me, “Who is Jesus?” I would have said the Son of God who died on the cross to bear God’s punishment for the sins of the world. Today when asked, “Who is Jesus?” I would say the Son of God whose actions reveal what God is like.
This distinction results in two fundamentally different ways of interpreting the Bible. It also sits at the foundation of two radically different ways I have approached faith. The first was a faith that amplified shame while dismissing guilt, while the second disempowers shame while inviting guilt to be a teacher. The first prompted a life of duplicity where I continuously found myself defending, excusing, explaining, and rationalizing often unconscionable behavior. This contrasts with today where I live from a place of deep vulnerability and radical authenticity.
Questions at Hanukkah
Something similar is going on in John 10 shortly after Jesus’ famous Good Shepherd discourse. John tells us that Jesus is in Jerusalem for Hanukkah, a feast that originated in the 2nd Century BCE when a Jewish military leader named Judah Maccabee led a victory over the Syrians. The Syrian ruler Antiochus, who considered himself equal to God, had defamed the temple. One of Judah Maccabee’s first actions after the victory was a rededication of the temple, something Hanukkah commemorates.
So the air is thick with memories of a foreign king who claimed to be equal to God and a military ruler who liberated his people (making him a type of messiah). These memories create both expectations and fears about who Jesus might be. Is he another Antiochus or another Judah Maccabee? There are certainly moments he looks and sounds like a liberator, yet he does not seem to be doing anything to overthrow the Roman occupiers. And then he drops the line, “The Father and I are one.” In doing so, Jesus challenges conventional thought and stretches the definitions people want to work with.
This is what happened to me when I started working through my dissertation, the work that prompted me to change everything I thought I knew about my faith. And it all started with the same question, “Who is Jesus, and what does it mean for Jesus and the God he called Father to be one?”