Why Traditional Models of Messiahship are So Dangerous in these Challenging Times

Growing up in the Christian tradition, the idea of messiahship floats reasonably freely into your awareness. Of course within the Hebrew tradition, prophets expressed their visions of messiahship – being anointed by God as an earthly God presence - through the ages. Exactly what was meant by those visions is a matter for argument, and likely to always be uncertain. Yet uncertainty, it seems, has never stopped humans from yearning for a particular type of messiah. That “type” is the idea of one person, hierarchically anointed by a power-over source of divinity so as to be a saving force for humanity. Now I’ll admit there are occasional situations that suggest – very briefly - that such top-down power might be a sustainable force. But in the end, and if we reflect deeply enough, our experiences will always remind us of our disappointment when we look for that kind of external-only power. It is always transitory.

Nevertheless we, as humanity, still keep yearning.

Having written the above, it’s not at all surprising that people would interpret the life of the strange young man from Nazareth through the lens of the “power over” messiah. Yet the mythos – the deeper truth – in narratives about Jesus and his followers suggests quite the opposite. There is stream of wisdom in these narratives whereby people keep looking for power in the traditional way (as I’ve outlined above) and that way is continually repudiated. If this continual repudiation is not strong enough, the message is accentuated with the death of Jesus. For any player in the narrratives who is still relating positional power and individual personhood with divinity, this dramatic device is meant to break that link. Then comes the equally dramatic device of resurrection, and through it the idea that the “new approach to power” that Jesus presented is carried on by a body of people acting together. So quite contrary to the hierarchical anointing of an individual, the divine is found in the deep relating and power-filled connecting of all.

Nevertheless we, as humanity, still keep yearning.

And so, recognising that the work of connecting is tough stuff, we water down the wisdom behind the Jesus story. If we can just attribute the idea of messiahship (as it relates to Jesus) to a powerful God-figure, beaming power down to one man, then we are off the hook. Our hero is defined. “Never fear. Jesus is the answer.” But that’s too simplistic. If I can call out to a traditional hero to save me, I don’t have to try to be all that I am. I can assert that it is for someone else to look over me rather than being called into full participation in this life. Yet I heartily believe that that in the attempt at such participation, lies the possibility of being anointed – anointed to be part (and part only) of divine presence.

I have been talking and writing about this for many years. I don’t hold any delusions that I can radically shift the world’s understanding of messiahship, and hence create a mass-call to people to take their full place in the divine body. Yet looking at some of the “tough problems” facing us right now, I feel I have to keep offering the message. The traditional messiahship approach eventually leads us down a typical problem solving path, as we look for leaders/experts/saviours to give us the answer. This seriously undermines the fact that each of us – yes, each of us - has a lens on to the solutions to big problems. Whilst humanity may have always yearned for the traditional messiah - to its detriment – I suspect now that the detrimental effects of such yearning are beginning to spiral out of control. It is marginalising more and more people and hence marginalising the diverse “lenses” that we really need to function as a society. I suspect we are near the limits of what marginalisation is possible. I suspect the strange young man from Nazareth saw that coming.

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