Last night I was doing a little review-browsing in a book I used a few years ago – a text for a “Life and Teachings of Jesus” class at the community college. The book is Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel, by Luke Timothy Johnson, 1999.

Here’s part of his final summary of the character of Jesus. (p200)

First, he makes the very significant point that Jesus is indeed an appropriate model for life-values and personal (and public) character.

It is on this point, in fact, that we find the most consistent testimony in the writings of the New Testament — namely, that there is a necessary congruence between the character of Jesus’ human life and the character of Christian discipleship.

Here’s a little of how that character shows up in the Gospels.

Nowhere in the Gospels is there an image of the human Jesus that is compatible with attitudes of

  • hubris,
  • hedonism,
  • envy,
  • arrogance,
  • acquisitiveness,
  • self-aggrandizement,
  • hostility,
  • or violence.

Wow. What a thing to be able to say about someone – especially someone so impressive to his contemporaries and so influential in history since his day. Well, if that’s what was missing from Jesus, what was present in him?

Jesus is everywhere associated with faithful obedience toward God, and meek, compassionate, self-emtying service toward other people.

“Meek,” by the way, when applied to Jesus does not mean cowed or brow-beaten. Obviously! We’re talking here about a guy who called one of his closest followers “Satan,” urged his enemies to go give the bloody King Herod his (Jesus’) itinerary, and who often deliberately chose to publicly reject the authority of the powers that be.

Meek does not mean cowering and retiring, but something much stronger and more self-possessed. Strong, like the way Jesus practiced deep, active, independent-minded love for all humans while not getting into the hubris, violence, etc. of that list up above. Now that’s strong.

And in case we’re missing the point, Johnson goes on to apply Jesus’ character standards to us.

Similarly, we find nowhere in the New Testament an understanding of Christian discipleship compatible with a life devoted to one’s own

  • success,
  • pleasure,
  • comfort,
  • freedom from suffering,
  • or power
  • at the expense of others.

Again, to fill that vacuum of what is absent, here is what is present.

Everywhere we find the qualities that are found in Jesus advanced as essential to the following of Jesus: the same faith, the same love, the same hope.

The basic pattern of faithful obedience to God and loving service to others is the image of Christ that the Spirit replicates in the freedom of those who belong to Christ.

Don’t you just love that last line – “that the Spirit replicates in the freedom of those who belong to Christ.” There is available to us a moral attachment to Christ that enables the Spirit of Christ to effect transformation, to generate character re-formation, not in suppression of our freedoms, but “IN the freedom” that is God’s gift to us.

[Here are other posts of mine mentioning this book: Jesus is Still a Significant ExperienceLearning JesusMissing Jesus – Replaced by Machiavelli ]