“If Jesus had been…” Amazing phrase. My head struggles with this phrase in one direction, and my heart also struggles, but toward another pole. My head says, “But Jesus was historical, a Jew, a travelling rabbi who also happened to be God on earth.” My head wants to warn me not to play this hypothetical game. But my heart shouts back, “This isn’t hypothetical! In fact, we shouldn’t be saying ‘If Jesus had been…’, but we should be saying, ‘Jesus IS…’.” My heart understands that while Christ transcends culture in his divine nature, he also is the source of all creation and thus anything really worth speaking of in a culture already does find its source in Christ. So I find this blog series both challenging and real. I will give it a try.
My first thought is that the world hasn’t changed that much in 2000 years. If Jesus were from Macedonia, he would deal with similar issues he dealt with in Judea: religious legalism, dead traditions, minority oppression and rebellion, illness and disease, and hard hearts. Because of the multi-cultural, global nature of the country, he would speak two or three languages, similar to many in 1st Century Israel. He would encounter criticism for crossing ethnic lines and openly befriending all segments of society, majority and minority alike – he would speak Makedonski and dine on pork-filled pastramalia one day in the east half of the country, and speak Shqip while eating beef kebap the next day . Various political parties would attempt to “win” his support, with each one likely turning against him for his refusal to play the political game.
Jesus would challenge the church traditions here, demanding explanations for why the gospel message has been so clouded behind icons, brick buildings, saint-worship, and 200-foot-tall crosses. He would also confront the leaders of other religions, engaging them in dialogue about the meaning of true worship, and in debate about the meaning of his existence. He would, at times with open-minded but guarded followers of the Q’uran, be vague as he is portrayed in Luke. And at times, even with them, he would allow his divinity to be sharply detailed, as he often is portrayed in John. He would use the annual Kurban celebration here, where a lamb is killed by each family to remind them of God’s promise to Abraham, to talk about his purpose for coming. And in this setting, he might use those words, “For those who have ears to hear….”
Jesus would stroll the boardwalk on Lake Ohrid in the summer, teaching those willing to listen. He would give sermons along the Vardar River valley and the whole countryside, as wine-makers, potato farmers, cheese-making shepherds, and others came to hear. He would come to the capital, Skopje, on special occasions and use the huge, new statues as illustrations of what belongs to God and what belongs to “Caesar”. I think he would remind people from the Orthodox background that true faith is not founded on jumping into rivers after lucky crucifixes, or refraining from meat and cheese on Friday; and with people here from the other main faith background, he would remind them that true faith is not about a holy month which alternates between fasting and binging, or about conquering new ground by building new holy buildings, or about headwear or outer expressions or attacking the religion of the majority.
He would commend people for caring for their children here, but quite possibly he would warn against making idols out of progeny. He would probably remind them that whoever does not regard God above family is not worthy of God. He would tell the same parables, I imagine. What ails cultures today is what ailed cultures back then.
I’m encouraged by the fact that Christ actually is here. He is here through those like us whom he has called here to proclaim the gospel, and through those who have believed here and are now ministering to fellow countrymen.