Thursday, March 28, 2013

Fred Lives!

This Easter you may be encouraged to think of someone who gave their life to redeem us.

This is what a messiah is; their life redeems us. And this redemption doesn’t work from the outside but from the inside. The messiah must be one of us so that their life counts as one of ours. That’s why it has this redemptive nature.

How does it save us? It shows us what we can be. Also that means there’s no salvation except through emulation.

From our exploitation of the poor and vulnerable, to our adoration of whatever is powerful, humanity can often seem shitful. Look at the abuse of our children. Look at the idiotic cunning of nuclear deterrence. Look at climate change skepticism, still. We are cruel, and murderous and thick as bricks.

But the messiah figure is different to that. They oppose that. As a human they refuse to be just defined by their humanity. They are kind and wise. They bring joy.

Other than the messiah, we can feel that humanity is worth stopping like a failed experiment, or like an oil spill. These aren’t sensible thoughts. But we feel them some days anyway; Then, because of the messiah… maybe not.

This Easter like every Easter we will be told by some that our one and only messiah is Jesus. I imagine that reflects the experience of the first Christians. I imagine that is why Jesus was celebrated in that way.

You may struggle to see the messianic quality. There are too many Jesus followers who think of kindness and wisdom and joy as secondary issues. They propose Jesus following as attending church, railing against other people’s sins, prayer and praise and obedience to certain biblical laws (though not others). Some can even follow Jesus and cover up the abuse of children; some can follow Jesus and still support nuclear deterrence. There can seem to be little of a redeeming nature there, just more shitful humanity.

Last Easter I wrote about what I think what Jesus’ message was. It’s primarily about God. I think there is something awesome there. However if you don’t, I don’t care. There is nothing in my mind especially gained by “recognizing” Jesus as a messiah or as a redeemer of humanity. The proof of that is history. It’s a crying shame but it’s evident.

Fortunately there is not only one messiah 2000 years old speaking in a language we have to struggle to understand. Instead there are many. Humanity throws up countless lives who respond to whether we deserve destruction with “maybe not”. Malala_YousafzaiCharles PerkinsJonas Salk are amongst many others. Your messiah might be someone very close to you (like my partner is for me). Or it might be Jesus from 2000 years ago.
I often think of Fred Hollows, an Australian eye doctor. That’s a life to emulate. It’s a life that shows us a path to restoration of a humanity of redeemed value, in the midst of human caused pain.

The important thing to remember is that merely admiring a messiah gets us nowhere. Messiahs that we put the work of our salvation on to are false messiahs. They have become separate from our humanity and can no longer redeem us. Ultimately it is not the messiah that truly saves us but the path they show.

Happy Easter.


  1. Hey Tony, just to clarify the definition of a word in your blog.
    "Messiah" is the Hebrew word for an "anointed one" or king. In Greek, the word is "Christos" and is why Jesus is referred to as The Christ.
    A messiah is not someone who redeems us by giving us an example to follow. They are a king who is divinely anointed by God to rule. This is the only appropriate way in which Jesus is referred to as the Messiah and respectfully, I would encourage you to simply use a different word rather than so radically change the word's definition so that it can include Fred Hollows or even your lovely partner.

  2. Simon, You are right in saying that messiah is used in this piece more liberally than others would. That is necessary to do justice to a few key concepts.

    1. Non-theists share with christians the sometimes feeling that humanity is worth giving up on. This in Christianity is sometimes given the name of the fallen nature of humanity. The point of this piece is to provide a language that articulates this feeling for all groups.Because it is a shared feeling.
    2. Jesus is often described as the person whom by their life achieved such holiness which meant that this feeling of giving up on humanity is not fairly applied to them. They are therefore opposite to what condemns humanity despite their humanity.
    3. Exactly what that opposite is in Jesus, is hard to notice when looking at contemporary Jesus followers as a whole. Rather we have others, some Christian and some not, who form such an opposite far clearer than even Jesus did. - Clearer because they are of our time, engaged in our struggles and thus easier to understand if nothing else.
    Respectfully I would say that despite messiah meaning historically someone anointed as king the meaning I have given is in fact a better representation of the fuller meaning Christianity gave to the term as a fellow human redeemer.
    I know your idea of Christ the King is crucial to your theology but I just don't rate it myself as capturing the fulness of what jesus following means. IN fact it seems in some hands to emphasis a submission to instructions drawn from the bible rather than an emulation of Jesus. More importantly for this piece it doesn't oppose the ways that humanity is shitful. Bible following has been a part of how humanity has been shitful - unfortunately. Or it has overlooked as secondary matters of justice and kindness in its obsession over metaphysical doctrines. BIG ALAS.
    Finally it is important to realise that messiah is a living word. You might even find this interesting.
    From Wikipedia: A common modern rabbinic interpretation is that there is a potential messiah in every generation. The Talmud, which often uses stories to make a moral point (aggadah), tells of a highly respected rabbi who found the Messiah at the gates of Rome and asked him, "When will you finally come?" He was quite surprised when he was told, "Today." Overjoyed and full of anticipation, the man waited all day. The next day he returned, disappointed and puzzled, and asked, "You said messiah would come 'today' but he didn't come! What happened?" The Messiah replied, "Scripture says, 'Today, 'if you will but hearken to His voice.'"[Ps. 95:7]

    However if you prefer to, just change the word messiah to redeemer. The points I make remain essentially the same.