Monday, May 30, 2011

What did they mean by "Jesus Is Lord"?

The first Christian statement of faith was simply "Jesus is Lord." One modern hearer gathered from this the meaning that "Jesus will care for me," much in the vein of the 23rd Psalm's "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." Perhaps. But what did the ancients, the first century Christians, mean?

Let's examine the three words.

Jesus. Not Christ (really a title, meaning Messiah). Not just anyone who occupies a particular office. Not some spiritual or celestial being. A particular person that some of them said they had met and talked to just like you and me in the flesh-and-blood here and now. Yeshua bar Josif, some postulate as his full historical name.

Is. Not was when he was alive. Not was long ago when the dinosaurs roamed. Not was at all. Is. Exists today.

"But how can that be? We saw him executed by the Romans!" The Roman officials themselves, asked who this "Chrestus" was, reported to superiors that he was an executed Jewish woodworker whose followers said he had risen from the dead. That was what spread like wildfire in the Roman Empire. This one, it was said, cheated the Emperor's executioner!!!

The Christians believed it.

Finally, Lord. In our Eurocentric conception, to us lords are medieval landowners, some of whom built castles. In some European countries, their heirs hold legal title to the lion's share of the land. But to the ancients an ordinary lord was a master or guardian, the head of household, the landowner, the king, the emperor -- all of whom had power of life and death over their subjects (by divine right, Paul wrote). "Lord" was also a substitute for "God" and in that world the Caesar was a god.

When Christians held "Jesus is Lord," the Romans knew they had to kill them.

All Christian statements of belief have always arisen by the "via negativa" or denial of an assertion of its time. Hail, Caesar! No, Jesus is Lord.

2 comments:

Anne said...

An interesting question. My reaction from my initial read was the realization that the first Christians didn't say "Jesus is God", something if they _had_ we would have repeated it endlessly. (That Jesus is God is postulated in other tenets.) The language is distinct. But Jesus is Lord is the simplest of statements of faith.

Would what "they" meant be the same as my belief? Jesus is Lord of my interior (for the better or worse of me). I just read a back-issue of US Catholic and the questioned survey was does Christianity make a difference? Everyone commented on the externals...basically how the church is a nice place to be, which I thought odd. For me Ch'ty primarily registers as how I look or act out of myself to people or events.

I don't really think (if I would ask like everyone else ;-) what would Jesus think?, ) that the person Jesus claims to be Lord of everything. (& actually, he doesn't, the Lord of the world claim goes to someone else.)

So, his lordship is as limited as the few disciples he has.

I do think that Jesus' "link" to God was, and is, and will be, as complete, the "full of grace" that we attribute to his mother, so his knowledge and giftedness is godlike, unified. (I very likely am completely heretical.)

So what Jesus has in me as Lord is not much, poor beggar! Unfortunately for Jesus his lordshipness is fairly powerless especially in and of the church because we aren't unified.

Sorry to say...

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I'd be interested in other peoples' thoughts, and yours. (the word verification for this comment is "idismsi" which __looks__ like a foreign version of "idiot is me". Maybe true? Writing on a wall?)

Cecilieaux said...

Very thoughtful, Anne!
The etymology suggests that there was an implicit "Jesus is God" message intertwined. Kyrios (Greek) and Adonai (Hebrew) both carried religious and secular meanings. The religious, in the Hebrew Adonai, was to avoid saying the Tetragrammaton, the name of God that could not be used in vain and therefore was entirely avoided (and is today by Orthodox Jews). A similar thing happened with Kyrios, which like Kristos and other such words, was an attempt at translation to the Greek. The secular meaning was what I gave. My reason for doing so is that ancient Hebrew was not a language of abstractions (as ancient Greek was). "Spirit" was "wind"; and someone with the power of God was a paterfamilias or landlord, "Lord."