Jesus is a myth.
I have been saying that. Subtly and subconsciously, I have been saying it.
Sure, I have professed this mystery of the incarnation, you know, God’s becoming flesh and dwelling among us. I have regaled listeners with stories of Jesus’ unworldly kindness, his taking the road less travelled, his healing, his miraculous power, his teaching, his mercy, his salvation. And yet, without realizing it, I have conceived of much of that in terms of something someone might have done long ago in some distant place.
By myth, I mean an imagined, idealized person about which one makes fanciful statements (not a technical definition, I realize). That’s what I’ve been doing with Jesus in the deep recesses of my mind.
Then, I came to holy land. I found myself in this agricultural paradise, a lush landscape a man by the name of Jesus made into parables. I have watched a Galilean morning colliding with a Galilean night, a collision Jesus of Nazareth observed thousands of times. I have walked the ground—the more-hilly-and-mountainous-than-I-ever-dreamed-of ground—Jesus the son of a carpenter travelled to teach and tell stories.
No, I have not seen the people Jesus healed. They are dead now. I have not seen any archaeological evidence of the miracles Jesus performed. I am not sure it exists. And no, I have not seen the Resurrected Jesus. To be honest, I haven’t been looking for him.
But I have seen this land. I know that Jesus walked here. People much smarter and scholarly than me know it, too. So there is no myth. Jesus of Nazareth existed. He existed in a very specific place in a very specific time.
And there’s more: what he said and did in this place caused people to believe. They believed something very real about him. And their very real belief caused them to do and say very real and specific things.
So as I sit here with my window open to the sounds of the Galilee, do I believe? I have said I do, but perhaps I’ve been secretly making myths. Perhaps I have made Jesus out to be an ideal or a philosophy or a good source for ethics and activism. Maybe I’ve made him some constellation in the sky about which I make fanciful statements, not a person of history in whom I have faith.
Let me be clear: My faith is intact; my romanticism is not.
This land confronts such convenient romanticism. This land requires me to believe or not believe something about this Jesus. This land evokes in me an understanding that there was a Jesus of Nazareth. There are accounts (reliable ones, I believe) of what he said and did. Then, there is what I believe or don’t believe about Jesus. And finally, there is what I do based on what I believe (or don’t believe). For that, I am grateful to this land.
So, Jesus Christ, I believe; help my unbelief.