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A God in our image and likeness?

“Jesus shatters our image of God and from its ruins invites us to live
in a new wonder” (Ronald Rolheiser).

Jesus had never been to the city of Jerusalem since he started his
mission in the public arena. Until then he had brought the liberating
message of God’s reign only to the peoples who were at the margins
of the Jewish seat of power. The decision to enter the city was very
crucial. No human space, not even that of those who hold power over
people, is exempt from God’s saving love.

He was not alone of course. Many of the people who mounted a


triumphant entrance for him were from Galilee, the province of Jesus.
Joined by some city residents, they spread their cloaks on the road,
waved leafy branches, and shouted in triumph. Their enthusiasm
shook the city but did not conquer it. Enthusiasm became betrayal;
betrayal collaborated with the impulse of the authorities and together
begot violence.

How could such ignominy happen so fast and so brutal? To say that it
was so because Jesus had to simply obey a script made-in-heaven
would be to dilute the message of an event that has greatly altered
the trajectory of human history. And to say that it had to be in order to
pay for our sins would have as an icon a God who craves for
suffering and blood in exchange for the insults and calumnies he has
long endured. Both are poor images of the God Jesus had come to
reveal.

The explanation it would seem is divine pedagogy. Every step along


the way from Galilee to Jerusalem Jesus shatters a limited if not
wrong understanding of the Jews as to who they are, who God is,
how are they to live, and what is their ultimate destiny. And out of the
ruins Jesus invites them to live in a new wonder and opens up a
future which even their prophets can only have a glimpse of.

Today is a good day to reflect on Jesus shattering images of God that


the Jews of Jesus’ times had fashioned for itself for our own images
are not too far off from theirs. It would seem that in every culture and
every civilization, the most common temptation is to refuse to “let
God be God” by making God fit into the images and likenesses we
make.

Jesus shattered their image of God by refusing to play along their


expectations. Had he played along, the people would have him
crowned hero who will save his people from all the heavy burdens of
Roman oppression and wanton irresponsibility of their leaders.
Rather than someone who would have established a new
arrangement of power players for his people, Jesus entered
Jerusalem unpacking a reign that would sit in judgment, for now and
for all ages, every type of political rule, every form of social
arrangement, and every instance of human leadership.

Jesus shattered their image of God by not following the religious


script of the chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the Law.
Instead he cleared the Temple area for it had become a “den of
thieves” rather than a “house of prayer” (For instance, Caiaphas the
High Priest, made money by allowing vendors to sell their goods in
the very courtyards dedicated to prayer!). Had he not done that, they
would have installed him a popular teacher who would have
deodorized a religious hierarchy’s stinking reputation. Jesus entered
Jerusalem bringing a way of worshipping a God who is not pleased
with temple offerings and ritual sacrifices but with a life of total and
daily self-giving for love of God and neighbor.

Jesus shattered their image of God by challenging the authority


behind the judicial procedure that sentenced him to die by crucifixion.
When he answered “I am” to the question “Are you the Son of God?”
he meant not God’s envoy but “Emmanuel”, God himself dwelling
among his people, demanding accountability to every form and every
exercise of human authority. Jesus entered Jerusalem obliging
religious leaders of his times, and of all times as well, to examine if
they deserve the respect and esteem of others on the authority they
hold.

Need not our images of God behind the following stances and
postures be examined and shattered?

A popular chief priest calling the highest political authority of the land
a “duwende” (dwarf) in his homily! A corruption-tainted president
surrounded by white-robed priests prayed over and blessed inside
the presidential palace! Some chief priests condemning the
government as having lost moral authority to govern while not a few
of their colleagues insist it had to finish the term mandated by the
people! Invoking the “sense of the faithful” many Catholic
organizations and Christian groups disagree and say it’s time to go
while others prefer to be on their knees to pray the oratio imperata!
And what can one make out of religious officials gladly accepting
financial help dished out from the government office for religious
affairs? Or government officials spinning the truth to protect the so-
called “national interest”? Or religious leaders demanding the highest
standards of governance upon all except themselves?

The holy week is a good week to examine if the God we worship and
praise as well as profess to love and serve is truly the God that he is.

Aloysius L. Cartagenas
SMSC, 16 March 2008