Packaging can be hard to tear off. When we buy something new, we expect to be able to open it without much effort. But sometimes it requires scissors or a knife. Or if we disobey our mother’s advice, our teeth.
But other times, we let the plastic languish on the item. We don’t unwrap it. We keep it pristine on a shelf, as new as the day we bought it.
Have we kept Jesus all wrapped up, too?
Take the Packaging Off Jesus
For many of us who were born into a family of believers, our origin story with Jesus may look the same. We were toted to church from infancy, never missed a Sunday or Wednesday service, could quote the books of the Bible by 3rd grade (or earlier).
But when we really came to know Jesus, our stories will vary. They’ll be as unique as we are.
Some came to know Jesus first as Savior. Others as Friend. Others as Teacher.
In her new book Freeing Jesus, author and historian Diana Butler Bass describes 6 ways of freeing Jesus, of undoing his packaging, of letting him out of the box.
They include discovering Jesus as:
Bass organizes this book brilliantly to tell her own spiritual autobiography.
But the book isn’t just about her. It’s mainly about Jesus. And about us and Jesus.
As Bass explains, it’s not a theological memoir. It’s a memoir theology. The focus is on theology; the memoir is just there to give it structure.
What is your spiritual autobiography? How and when did you take the wrapper off of Jesus? Which role of Jesus did you begin with, and where are you now?
There are no right or wrong answers. There is no divine sequence. Jesus is all things at all times. We’re just more in tune with Jesus in different ways at different times.
6 Ways to Experience Jesus
Here are quotes from Bass relating to six sides of Jesus that become visible as we free him from the packaging. See which ones relate most to you.
1. JESUS AS FRIEND
“The story of the New Testament is that the risk of friendship is the risk that frees us from fear and reshapes our lives—it is better to go together than to go alone. Jesus befriends us, opening our hearts to genuine love and the capacity to forgive each other, welcome all, and act justly in the world.”
2. JESUS AS TEACHER
“Although Christians call Jesus by many names, those who knew him best mostly called him ‘teacher.’ Of the ninety or so times Jesus is addressed directly in the New Testament, roughly sixty refer to him as ‘teacher,’ ‘rabbi,’ ‘great one,’ or ‘master’ (as in the British sense of ‘schoolmaster’). . . .
“Jesus, who was complete love, the man for others, taught us to go and be likewise. He did not teach rules. He taught that love ruled. He lived what he taught.”
3. JESUS AS SAVIOR
“‘Savior’ may well be the most ubiquitous term that Christians use to describe Jesus. Yet, oddly enough, ‘Savior’ appears only twice in the gospels to describe Jesus. . . .
“At-one-ment was the reason the authorities did away with Jesus. No empire can stand if the people it oppresses figure out that reconciliation, love, liberation, and oneness hold more power than the sword.”
4. JESUS AS LORD
“I had not brought Jesus to anyone. Instead, my host had brought Jesus to me as he welcomed me and invited my heart to be cleansed along with the kitchen. There was something of me that got saved that day, not the other way around.”
5. JESUS AS THE WAY
“In the mystical poetry of John, Jesus uses these terms to explain how he embodies a way of being in this world so close to the heart of God that God can be known in and through Jesus. . . .
“Being a Christian is about finding or getting found by Jesus.”
6. JESUS AS PRESENCE
“Jesus as mystery is, indeed, the Christian faith’s greatest spiritual enigma. A human being who is fully God? That is what Christianity proclaims—that beyond our wildest imaginings, the ever-creating Love of the cosmos made its way into our small, hurting world, living and dying with us and for us, and promises never, never, never to leave us alone. Love is in the world, and inside of us, dwelling with us even as we dwell in it. I cannot explain one bit of that.”
Let Jesus Move and Breathe
Bass explains there are multiple other ways we experience Jesus, too: as Word, Wisdom, Sustenance, etc.
Each way, and each person’s experience, is valuable, in both shaping their own life as well as kingdom life.
“Our frame is so narrow, and Jesus’s is so wide. If only we knew all the Jesuses who have been hidden from view, all the Christs never heard. Thankfully, more voices count now—the experiences of many are arising to bring every Jesus to light the world.”
Bass addresses COVID-19 in the conclusion of her book.
“Jesus did not leave us to suffer alone. COVID-19 forced Jesus out of the cathedral into the world, reminding Christians that church is not a building.”
Many of us can attest to this. We are thankful that Jesus has never been confined to a building or an institution.
Nor does he want to be packaged tightly in plastic wrap, sitting on a shelf, never to be opened.
Wherever we go, Jesus wants to be unwrapped and experienced as friend, teacher, Savior, Lord, way, and presence.
Let’s take the wrapper off Jesus. And leave it off. He wants to move and breathe in us.
Who is Jesus to you? Which of these 6 ways have you encountered Jesus the most: Jesus as friend, teacher, Savior, Lord, way, or presence?
For more about Freeing Jesus, listen to the March 29 interview with Diana Butler Bass on the “Things Not Seen” podcast.
My thanks to NetGalley and HarperOne
for the review copy of Freeing Jesus
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