Platonized Jesus: Good News for the Spiritual; Bad News for the Poor

In Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human, Steve Guthrie brilliantly contrasts Luke’s portrayal with a Platonic vision of Jesus’ ministry.  I just love this:

As bearer of the Spirit, Jesus is not (in Platonic fashion) raised up out of this world but rather immersed in it.  It is the Spirit who empowers Jesus to get his hands dirty, as it were, with the very physical and bodily needs of men and women—blindness, poverty, imprisonment.  Luke then draws us along through Jesus’s ministry, pointing out all the ways Jesus is indeed the Spirit-anointed one spoken of in Isaiah…

If Luke (and the other gospel writers) believed that the task of the Spirit was to mortify the body, then we would expect to see this reflected in their depiction of Jesus (who, after all, they believed to be the anointed one—the bearer of the Spirit).  In such a case, at every stage in Jesus’s ministry the sick would come to recognize their bodily infirmities as illusory and of no significance.  The disadvantaged would embrace their hunger and poverty as a means of purging the soul.  In his movement throughout society Jesus would be the very picture of austerity, fasting rigorously and associating himself especially with those of similar temperament.  The disciples would come to Jesus, pointing out that the five thousand who had followed him into the desert needed food, and Jesus would refuse to provide it—declaring that his followers attend to their souls rather than their mortal bodies.  Jairus, the widow of Nain, and Mary and Martha would welcome their loved ones’ physical death, recognizing that their immortal souls were now free of their bodily imprisonment.  Above all, Jesus’s body would not be raised from the dead.  The disciples would foolishly try to touch him, and fail; they would offer this translated ghost of Jesus broiled fish and he would refuse, explaining that he has now ascended beyond materiality.

Of course, we see just the opposite taking place.  Wherever Jesus, the bearer-of-the-Spirit goes, life breaks out, not some metaphorical, etherealized, “immaterial” sort of life, either, but real bodily vitality.  The lame walk, the blind see, the dead are raised to life, the hungry are fed.  Jesus is the one filled with the Spirit, and precisely as the Spirit-filled one Jesus brings life and healing to broken bodies (pp. 68-69).

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15 responses to “Platonized Jesus: Good News for the Spiritual; Bad News for the Poor

  • greekUnorthodox

    “Luke then draws us along through Jesus’s ministry, pointing out all the ways Jesus is indeed the Spirit-anointed one spoken of in Isaiah”

    This isn’t exactly what your post is about, but I think this claim is really lost in most readings of Luke. Look especially in Luke 3 (Jesus’ baptism) where most people think the passage is about revealing the Trinity. Instead they overlook a ritual cleansing, a mention of his age (30) and detailing his lineage – prerequisites for priesthood (true he wasn’t from the tribe of Levi, but Hebrews addresses that)…all in quick succession.

    I believe Luke is describing Jesus’ qualifications for priesthood in this passage…it’s an ordination ceremony. He is being annointed with the Spirit to represent and carry out God’s will on Earth.

    • timgombis

      That very well may be, Greek. Narratives have all sorts of significances, and your note may go along with Luke’s development of Jesus as the true human, carrying out God’s intended design for humanity. This works out in so many ways throughout the third Gospel, but at least it has to do with Jesus’ being anointed and empowered by God’s Spirit to do this.

      • S Wu

        May I suggest that we take a good look at Isaiah 61:1,2 (cf. the LXX) and 58:6, for that’s what Luke 4:18-19 cites? That is, it’s the Isaiah text(s) that Jesus read in the synagogue in Nazareth. Isaiah 61 seems to be referring to the coming Messiah and 58 refers to God’s chosen fast. (Both texts have something to do with the poor and needy – and much more!)

        But I am thinking that the Jew-Gentile Jesus-community that we find in Luke-Acts is about the new (eschatological) humanity that the Messiah came to gather. The poor and the marginalised are restored and gathered into this community, where there is no class or racial distinctions.

        This is no “spiritual” community, as if it is concerning a disembodied existence. The Christ-community is about the restoration of humanity, so that they can be “truly human” again, as it were.

        One thing I think we don’t realise is that the word “spiritual” (and the corresponding Greek word) is a rather infrequent word in the New Testament. But we use it so much in our churches as if it is a key word for Christian living. SOmething to ponder? (And the usage of the word in the NT will likely surprise us.)

      • timgombis

        “Spiritual” is probably not used all that often because it isn’t at all radical in the 1st century world. “Spirituality” was everywhere and wasn’t at all unique to the Christian gospel. If anything, it was less spiritual than other visions of things. What’s radical is that God is making creation new in Jesus and through the new polis he’s gathering by his Spirit, as you say. THAT’S true spirituality — to join that group and take part of its alternative and life-giving practices.

      • S Wu

        Well said, Tim, and indeed it’s rather profound to see “true spirituality” that way. It seems to me that the OT view of Spirit is important to the understanding of “S/spirituality” in the NT. But what’s rather amazing is that the Holy Spirit in the NT dwells in the community of Christ – and that’s regardless of their ethnic lineage and social status. And I think Romans 14:17 says a lot – the kingdom of God …. righteousness-justice (dikaiosune), peace (shalom) and joy in the Holy Spirit. A community in racial-cultural-religious conflict is to embody the shalom of God through “true S/spirituality” – and that’s what the kingdom of God looks like.

      • timgombis

        Exactly! I think he hits that, actually, in chapter 4.

  • joey

    Yes, this is really good. It’s VERY difficult for people to hear this type of thing. I was trying to preach (not that I’m a preacher or theologian) this type of thing one time from Col 1:15ff when one woman became so angry with me. After shaking her head at me for quite some time, she finally just got up and left. We’re so accustomed to thinking that “changed in the twinkling of an eye” means “changed into spirit beings.”
    What you (and Guthrie) have offered here is another angle that I will utilize.
    Our redemption is directly tied to God’s creative purposes which includes one, big HUMAN family. That is becoming increasingly clear to me. Thanks for sharing this. It’s so very exciting, isn’t it?! Goodness I love thinking about these things.

    • timgombis

      Guthrie lays out the connection between Spirit and materiality from creation through to redemption/new creation beautifully. DEFINITELY worth consulting and it preaches, too!

  • joey

    Oh! One more thing, which I guess is what Guthrie is saying: The lame walk, the blind see, the dead are raised, etc are NOT just examples of Jesus saying, “I am so powerful that I can…” These are prophecies or promises. “I’ve done this for this person. I will do it for all of mankind.”

  • athanasius96

    It doesn’t take much reflection on Jesus’ ministry to wonder how we ever end up stuck with Platonic ideas of who Jesus is. The only thing I can think of is that we have a tendency to indulge ourselves at the expense of truth.

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