Joe the Messiah

Warning: I’m thinking out loud here, so if you’re ultra-orthodox or easily offended, this might not be for you.

Earlier today in my Patristic Readings in Greek class, we came across an interesting word. I don’t have a good Greek font installed to reproduce it here, but it’s the same word in the New Testament that we usually translate as “cleave” (as in, a man shall leave his family and cleave to his wife). It also has connotations of “glue” and “stick” — but at least one Greek dictionary also used a stronger, more interesting word: Weld. The image of “God as Welder” instantly conjured up (for me, at least) a blue-collar, working class sort of God, and borrowing a popular political meme lately, I blurted out to my Greek class, “Hey, it’s Joe the God!” Not surprisingly, I got a lot of raised eyebrows on that one.

But I’ve been thinking about it a lot today. Yes, it’s true that John McCain has kind of been beating the whole “Joe the Plumber” thing to death lately, and all of its related offshoots (Bob the bricklayer, Craig the Construction Worker, Sue the Waitress, ad nauseum) but there’s an undeniable appeal to the “common person” here.

It’s one that resonates with me. My favorite author, John Steinbeck, spent a literary career celebrating the lives of working class people in books like The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and Once there Was a War. Actually, it permeates everything he wrote. My musical icon, Woody Guthrie, and folk music as a whole, celebrate the “songs of the simple folk.” In my own life, I have often championed the cause of the masses–it explains my infatuation with blogging, Web2.0 technology, Wikipedia, and open-source software.

Back to “Joe the God.” I’ve been really stressing lately in my church history class over the issue of the “Divinity of Christ” that keeps showing up in the early councils and creeds. While I can’t completely deny that Jesus is God, I’ve had a hard time affirming it outright. I’m beginning to realize that perhaps this is because for a long time now, I’ve been far more enthralled with Jesus’ favorite title for himself (Son of Man) than with our favorite title for him (Son of God). I’m captivated by his humanity more than by his “divinity.” It’s the idea of “Joe the God” — or perhaps more accurately “Joe the Messiah” that really moves me, and I sense I’m not alone in this either.

Here’s a thought: The early church “fathers” struggled to find a balance between Christ’s divinity and his humanity. Is it possible that in our own time the pendulum has swung to far to the “divinity” side, to the point where [people like me] feel a strong need to advocate and emphasize Chris’s humanity? Yes, I know I sometimes take this to the extreme, calling the divinity into question–but perhaps its a needed over-compensation necessary in order to bring balance to the force. Oops, wrong universe–how’s that for syncretism?!

Back to politics and a nod to the other point of view: A few months ago, long before the rise of “Joe the Plumber” my friend Trait Thompson made a case against looking for a “Joe Six Pack” to lead the nation, arguing that instead we need an FDR or a Thomas Jefferson. It’s a great post, and you should read it. Ironically, we both like John McCain, but (obviously) come at it from different angles, as we always have (It’s great to have friends across the aisle, btw).

So I wonder if those who yearn for strong or exemplary leadership in our government are more drawn to the image of Jesus as “Son of God.” Drawing Augustine into the equation (just for fun), I wonder if perhaps those who, like him, view mankind as depraved and fallen are more likely to feel a need for an external, all-powerful divine Savior. Conversely, perhaps those with a pre (or post) Augustinian view of things, who see mankind as “made in the image of God” and therefore intrinsically good, look internally to humanity for our salvation–casting Jesus as the “people’s Messiah” or “Son of Man.”

If this is the case, following the threads begun in the age of Enlightenment, through the democratizing influence of the internet today (think web2.0), and looking toward a post-modern future with shades of Ray Kurzweil’s messianic/apocolyptic concept of Singularity

Maybe the pendulum is ready to swing in Joe the Messiah’s direction. Second Coming of Christ, anyone?

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