The Pre-Easter and Post-Easter Jesus
The Pre-Easter Jesus was a Jewish mystic, healer, wisdom teacher, and prophet of the kingdom of God. He proclaimed the immediacy of access to God and His Kingdom; he challenged the domination system of his time; was executed by its authority, and then vindicated by God with his resurrection. Jesus according to Christians represents God’s revelation of himself in a human being to all humankind.
Many biblical and theological scholars today have solid, reasonable analyses to argue that Jesus was not aware of his divinity. Thus, his historical walking through Galilee, preaching in parables rich in local lore, and sitting down at table with so many undesirables against all the exclusionary rules of Jewish culture, design a blueprint of human values for living according to God the father’s revelation. Similarly imitation of the Pre-Easter Jesus’s deep spiritual centering in God is evidenced as an essential component of his “way.” He enacts a spiritual program through the frequent mention of his long nights of prayer, his seeing his father everywhere: in the weather, the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, even the hair on his listeners’ heads, all this framed by bouts with temptations in the desert where he definitively rejects a special magical relationship with his Creator. Jesus manifestation of the divine by becoming one of us, crowned by his life style, through a message sealed in love by his horrible death on the cross, and through his passionate attachment to his father, speak loud and clear how God desires to relate to us as individuals in a return of love.
Although we of the modern world were not graced with the privilege of sitting at God’s feet at an outdoor meeting with the itinerant prophet, Jesus, two thousand years later we have been similarly blessed though through an imperfect, imprecise human historical scholarship with the opportunity to realize that God’s embrace of us includes the human Pre-Easter as well as the divine Post-Easter Jesus.
Jesus is God’s decisive revelation to us of himself, what we can know in this life of God’s character and passion. That is why it is important to form in our mind despite the limitations of history the most accurate picture of Jesus possible including, of course, the more developed Post-Easter Jesus. An enlarged picture has been brought to our attention today through the biblical scholars’ identification of Jesus’ own words and activities when teaching his fellow Galilean peasants in their rural environment. These passages of Luke and Matthew are so similar to one another in wording and syntax that most scholars posit that they come from a common source, or Quellen in German, what could be the earliest written document on Jesus.
With all the caveats of historical and biblical analysis the isolated grouping of Jesus’ own words analyzed independently of the later written gospels permits us to construct a fuller picture of the humanity of Jesus which in fact contributes substantially to interpret with greater balance the sources for the Post-Easter Jesus. His own words and their context in Galilee, considered by many scholars to reflect, except for the narrative surrounding his death, his complete public life complement significantly our understanding of the Post-Easter Jesus where he was envisioned after his death on the cross and resurrection as something akin to a superhuman being, relatively common in the current religious cultures of that time especially in urban contexts.
The urban-biased and theological letters of St. Paul as well as the canonical gospels grew out of the oral traditions dating from decades before. They were committed to writing by urban dwellers for urban communities for the most part with problems of self-identification as members of an incipient religious movement. Jesus’ period in Galilee, probably his entire public life except the very last days, was not given equal importance. If we don’t attribute the attention to the Pre-Easter Jesus made available to us today we run the risk of minimizing the father’s and trinitarian role in Jesus’ own instructive spirituality which is partially eclipsed in the canonical gospels by their focus on urban community needs. Jesus communicates with his fellow Galilean peasants holding up for imitation his relationship with his father God, something not so manifest in the later gospels composed for urban communities.
Jesus by pointing to the natural signs of the weather warned his listeners to read the signs of the times. The Quellen in both Luke and Matthew as well Mark’s sources reflecting the earliest impressions of Jesus’ followers place more emphasis on putting Jesus’ way in practice than on fortifying foundational components of the early urban Church. The doctrinal reaches of St. Paul, the gospels and other early sacred writings passing on oral tradition about Jesus as the crucified Savior of the world stamped the belief and life of the early church. He had triumphed over death by rising from the dead. Thus, the the early canonical letters, the gospels and Acts, overshadowed many aspects of the historical Jesus.
Jesus’ own words, when studied apart from the various gospels’ objectives bring into relief a call to practice based on his own intimate life with and understanding of God his father. It calls us to a new covenant, to move more deeply into a relationship with Jesus who is God’s gift revealing himself to us; that means placing a major emphasis on spiritual intimacy with the father, hallowing his name, as well as the recovery of the Jewish Bible’s passion for justice, peace and rescue for the unfortunate victims of violence and injustice.