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Recovering Jesus of Nazareth

Consumerism, parties, wasteful street lighting and binge eating have pushed the true protagonist of this time of the year into oblivion

Statue of Jesus Christ at Calvary Cemetery in Rochester, Minnesota
Statue of Jesus Christ at Calvary Cemetery in Rochester, Minnesota.Getty Images
Juan José Tamayo

The excessive consumption, the competition in the lighting of the streets, squares and shopping centers, the eating excesses, the waste of a third of the food that goes to the trash, the mythical aspects and the Christmas iconography at this time of the year have overshadowed, concealed or relegated to oblivion their true protagonist: Jesus of Nazareth, whom I would like to bring back from such oblivion or falsification, though not in his more folkloric, consumerist, cultural and sentimental portrayal, but rather in his ethical, prophetic and liberating dimension.

Religions have always been the target of criticism, and rightly so, especially in modern times. It has been said that they promote superstition, fanaticism, and intolerance. God or the gods and goddesses have also been criticized from every corner. Sometimes their existence has been denied because it is seen as lacking an empirical basis. Others have attributed their origin to fear, and to the need for comfort and protection from nature and threats from our fellow humans.

The criticism hits squarely on the waterline of religious institutions that claim to defend the rights of divinity when they frequently forget to defend human rights, and especially those of impoverished people and groups. They have been accused of perverting the authentic message of the founders, psychologically alienating their followers, generating feelings of guilt, imposing submission and relegating women to an inferior role.

Jesus of Nazareth, however, is spared all the criticism, or almost all. There is a kind of consensus about him. Almost everyone speaks well of him and agrees in recognizing his values and qualities: philosophers, theologians, artists, religious figures, poets, novelists, scientists, saints, film directors and more. These are people of different religions, and even non-believers, agnostics, atheists...

Pope Francis asked on Sunday, December 24, 2023 "not to confuse the holiday of Christmas with consumerism."
Pope Francis asked on Sunday, December 24, 2023 "not to confuse the holiday of Christmas with consumerism." FABIO FRUSTACI (EFE)

Gandhi wrote: “The spirit of the Sermon on the Mount exercises on me almost the same fascination as the Bhagavad Gita. That sermon is the origin of my affection for Jesus.” The writer Albert Camus stated: “I do not believe in his resurrection, but I will not hide the emotion I feel before Christ and his teaching. Before Him and before His history I experience nothing but respect and veneration.” The philosopher Simone Weil observed: “Before being Christ, he is the truth. If we turn away from him to go towards the truth, we will not go far without falling into his arms.” Rousseau confessed: “If the life and death of Socrates are those of a wise man, the life and death of Jesus are those of a God.”

Nietzsche, who defined God as “our longest lie” and proclaimed his death, also defined Jesus as the “great symbolist” and “good messenger,” who died just as he lived, just as he taught, not to ‘redeem men,’ but to show them how to live. What he bequeathed to humanity is practice: his behavior before the judges, before the executioners, before the accusers and before all kinds of slander and mockery, his behavior on the cross.

Ethically impeccable

I also count myself, modestly, among the admirers of Jesus of Nazareth and I agree with the testimony of Laín Entralgo, who, in the presentation of his book El problema de ser un cristiano [The problem of being a Christian], asserted: “The central nerve of Christian behavior is not the imitation of Christ, among other reasons, because Christ is inimitable. What is characteristic of Christianity is the following of Christ from and with one’s own life.”

The point of convergence of the different laudatory testimonies regarding Jesus of Nazareth is his ethical attitude, his liberating praxis, his commitment to the most vulnerable people and communities, his defense of lost causes, his being-for-others, his detached lifestyle, his humanist and ecological message. His supportive and compassionate attitude towards his neighbor in need, the radical nature of his denunciation of all powers: political, religious, economic. Everyone agrees that Jesus was an ethically impeccable person, of great moral stature.

It is this ethical dimension, ignored by many of the dogmatic Christologies, that I want to highlight during these celebrations in full harmony with the theology of discipleship of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Johann Baptist Metz, Jürgen Moltmann and the theologies of liberation, which present him as a liberator.

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