Do we make an idol out of Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
My wife shared something that it was thought it would be good for me to respond to and, well, as you all know my wife gets first priority. A lesbian Methodist bishop, something to think about in itself, has said that we make an idol out of Jesus. Now I wanted to see what was said to make sure it was being understood. We don’t need any “Jesus is my boyfriend” type of messages out there. If that was the kind of thing being said, that would be fine, but no. Karen Oliveto has something different in mind.
For her, Jesus was indeed fully human, which we would all embrace as part of orthodoxy, but part of His humanity includes growing in moral character. It would be false to say that Jesus never grew as He walked this Earth. Luke 2:52 tells us that He did. It would be false to say Jesus came out of the womb knowing Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, how to do quadratic equations, the distance between here and Alpha Centauri, and pontificating the Summa Theologica.
It would also be false to think that Jesus because He was God and man was superhuman in everything that He did. While Jesus could walk on water, if you were to have a swimming race between Jesus and Michael Phelps, your smart money is better spent on Michael Phelps winning. Michael Jordan would beat Jesus in a game of basketball. If you want to talk about physics, someone like Stephen Hawking would know more about that than Jesus would have. Jesus came and played by the rules after all. We dare not think He was God so much that it eclipsed His humanity. His humanity was entirely real.
The difference is with moral behavior. Jesus did not grow morally because He was the only one who never sinned. He was born without a sin nature. He did not become a more holy person throughout His life. He was pure and spotless from the beginning.
Oliveto’s main text to show Jesus growing supposedly is the story of the Canaanite woman who had a demon-possessed daughter. In the interest of fairness, this is a difficult passage to understand. It is easy to see how some people could see the account and think that Jesus is awfully cold. This is a woman with a demon-possessed daughter. Why not help her out? Why speak to her in such a way to refer to her as a dog?
What I think is going on is that Jesus is not just helping the woman, but He is also teaching His disciples. His disciples would have known about Jesus’s willingness to help out Gentiles seeing as he’d helped the Centurion’s servant and He’d delivered the man with the Legion inside of him. Still, old ways of thinking die hard. The Disciples would have grown up with an inherent distaste for the outsiders. Even after the resurrection, it took a vision to get Peter to share the Gospel with a Gentile.
So when this woman comes to Jesus, Jesus I think was playing along with what the disciples were saying who just wanted her sent away. The account starts with the disciples seen as being in the place of favor since they are the chosen ones of Jesus and the woman being a shameful figure seeing as she is an outsider. Jesus tests the woman to reveal her not to Him, for He knew what was in her heart already, but to reveal her to the disciples.
So what happens? This woman turns out to have greater faith than the disciples. The result is a complete turnaround. The woman is honored and the disciples are seen as the shamed ones. Jesus did not honor their request, the MEN who were closest to Him, but honored the request of the woman. This would have been a hard lesson for the disciples to learn that day.
Oliveto is certainly right that Jesus stood against the cultural norms and prejudices of His day. She is wrong in thinking this was a new revelation to Him. Jesus regularly shattered the viewpoint of those around Him. His own ministry was a challenge seeing as He was not one of the educated elite. He regularly interacted with women, would speak to Samaritans, dined with prostitutes and tax collectors, etc.
Oliveto is quite likely reading too much of herself into Jesus. It is true that we can put Jesus into roles He was never meant to be into, such as Jesus being your boyfriend, but it is false to say that we are in danger of making too much of Jesus. In reality, we are likely not seeing Him as He uniquely was and is. Skeptics today are regularly trying to find similarities between Jesus and other figures in ancient history. What is far more interesting is noting how Jesus is different from all other figures. Jesus is in a class by Himself.
It’s not Jesus who is prejudiced and bigoted and needs to be informed by us. It is the opposite. We have our prejudices and bigotry, and the main one many of us have is the assumption that we in our cultural milleu are enlightened and in the right entirely. If our moral stances disagree with Jesus, we really need to look at those moral stances.
Oliveto has certainly opened us up to something though. Jesus is far more different than we realize. In reality, this article reveals nothing new about Jesus. It sure reveals a lot about Oliveto.