Notes from Rachel Muers’ talk Jan 19

Hi All,

Here is a cut and paste of Rachel’s notes, with a few additions of mine in bold that will hopefully make it make more sense.

“Why did Jesus call himself the “son of man”?

Before starting, one of my favourite short theological quotations
Gloria Dei vivens homo [explain] (translation – ‘The glory of God is the living human being’. Quote is from Irenaus)

And the follow up is “ and the life of a human being is the vision of God”

Non-competitive – not putting humanity down to raise God up – God is glorified in the life of humanity, in the human being fully alive

And then the next thing I tend to say is – this makes sense of Jesus – and you have to say that Jesus is the paradigm case not the exception. This is what a living human being who is the glory of God looks like… & this is the human life that is the vision of God (ie Jesus is the most humany human there ever was)

Love this as a way of talking about Jesus because… it makes the humanness of Jesus important, showing the glory of God not hiding it, it’s not a situation where Jesus’ Godhead & his humanity are competing all the time, just this human life is the glory of God – and it also opens it out – the aim of what God does in Jesus is life for humanity and the life that consists in seeing God (so we’re trying to be like Jesus in his full humanness rather than trying to be like Jesus in his full divinity, which is not possible)

Emphasises the relationship between God and humanity, it’s active, it’s living, energetic – glory

Picture is the Baptism of Christ (Piero) with all the light in the picture shining out of the central figure of Jesus (The painting we looked at is The Baptism of Christ by renaissance artist Piero della Francesca)

Why am I going on about this? Well I was asked to talk about why Jesus refers to himself as son of man, so I’m going to do that, & one of the traditional ways Christians have thought about that is to say Jesus is son of God and son of man, it’s a balance, God and human, and he emphasises son of man just to emphasise that he’s human, they’re saying that’s a humble sort of title. I think that makes sense but only if you think about the fact that he’s calling himself the son of man. (I should point out here that “man” in the Greek is generic, there’s a specific word for “male” and he doesn’t use it, so you can say “human being”). So there’s something about being definitively or representatively human.

Thoughts and comments

Next bit of prologue is to say you’re starting a series on theological anthropology. Question of what it means to be human. Thinking about this we don’t actually very often say “that’s such a human way to behave” or “that’s such a human thing to do”. We say something’s inhuman or superhuman. When it’s out of the ordinary. So maybe we just assume we know how being human works. Which is where Christianity does something really odd & suggests that at least some of the time we’re not doing a great job of being human or of recognising what it means to be human.

[Could discuss that. What do we learn about being human from saying that’s inhuman or that’s superhuman? That’s dehumanising?]

So that a fully-human human being, a human being fully alive, is surprising, or hard to deal with.

Fullness of human life is very, very contagious. I like to see Jesus’ miracles in this way. It spreads by touch. Human life is life together.

Life as glory of God/vision of God – life that doesn’t need.

Jesus referring to himself as the ‘son of man’ – let’s look at a text. We could have picked lots of different ones.

What does it mean that Jesus calls himself this
What does it mean that Jesus uses the title in just this way

What do people think about it

As far as scholars are sure of anything they’re pretty sure that Jesus called himself “the son of man”. That’s on the principle, which is a real principle NT scholars apply, that the weirder it sounds the more likely it is to be true – call it “you couldn’t make it up” or “you wouldn’t make it up”. Admittedly if you only applied that principle you would make Jesus really, really weird, so they have others as well. Anyway. Son of man is one of the things scholars tend to be most confident about even if they’re really sceptical about everything else.

But what’s it all about?

Quite a lot of scholars say it just means “me” – “muggins here”, “your boy”, etc. They might be right. It always sounds odd to me, a bit pretentious, a bit self-centred, but there’s a good argument that that’s how Aramaic works. That still doesn’t quite explain to me why all the Gospel writers decided it was worth writing down in just those words, transcribing it across into Greek that doesn’t quite make sense. They must have seen something else going on.

[??Transfiguration text – read it out] (Mark 9:2-13)

  • Setting Jesus apart
  • Visible glory of God
  • Divine voice calls Jesus the Son
  • And then back to a human story step by step (back into time-sequence – not yet, what has to happen first); this is when the ‘son of man’ gets introduced again; life in the body (rising from the dead)
  • The third-person-ness – Jesus talks about this as something that’s mapped out because of the role he plays – course of his human story
  • Maybe Peter is not wrong to want to stay there – the vision of God – a kind of promise – transfiguration continues in ordinary time?
  • (& next thing that actually happens is a healing miracle)

Another thought about coming down off the mountain and re-entering the fray. Not going for a selective/heroic version of humanity (so he’s the very topmost in humanity’s top drawer, you work your way all the way up through the list of heroes and eventually you get to Jesus ) – I don’t think this is how the Jesus’ humanity theme works. At least I hope it isn’t because it puts Jesus a very long way away being looked up to.

I think the son of man title helps to bring him down to earth.

That’s one of the impressive things about son of man – it’s not really a grand title unlike son of God, Messiah, prophet, Moses, Elijah, etc – it’s both completely ordinary AND completely unique (which is why it’s exactly right for the “representative human being”, “the human one”)

But then you do have a lot of texts where Jesus as son of man is definitely something special – texts about the son of man coming from heaven, texts about the last judgement. I have a suggestion that even here part of the point is that Jesus calls human beings to be fully human.

Sheep and the goats text (we didn’t get to look at this text in depth, but we finished with her last sentence below about nations)

‘Future judgement’ relates to humanity/humanness – are you human and recognising common humanity? This is what’s remarkable about the sheep and the goats text – the fact that it makes explicit that the “son of man” is everyman and nobody else is judging you – the king just is the anonymous human being – so there isn’t a law/system/power that overrides the call to be human or to recognise other people’s humanity– and it’s also interesting that it’s a judgement on the nations. How good are the nations at being human, creating human spaces to live, nourishing human relationships, holding onto the humanity of prisoners & hungry people?”

%d bloggers like this: