[This is the third of five blogs from Israel where I am currently traveling with rabbis and evangelical ministers from Nashville.]
Today’s visit to Kfar Nahum (Village of Nahum), Jesus’ “headquarters” raised one of the most challenging koans posed by Jesus in the Bible: “Who do you say I am?” While Jews normally do not feel called upon to respond to Jesus’ question, I believe that living in an overwhelmingly Christian civilization forces the question upon us.
For most Jews the question is answered indirectly. That is to say, Jesus is irrelevant to our lives as Jews. This need not be articulated openly, and can be implied by simply ignoring the challenge Christianity poses.
There is nothing wrong with this answer as far as it goes. For me, however, it does not go far enough. To avoid the question of Jesus is not enough, and leaves me dangling somewhat precariously in a world haunted by the question. I want to answer it, and in so doing end my dangling.
For me Jesus is a fully realized embodiment of Chochma/Sofia, Wisdom, God’s Daughter, through whom all creation is ordered (see Proverbs Chapter 8). Chochma is the nature of nature, the way, the truth, and the life of all things. To know her is to know creation from the quark to the quasar, from the nonpersonal to the personal to the interpersonal to the transpersonal. She is the Tao, the Dharma, the Torah, and the Truth as it plays itself out in the world that I encounter.
She is a Tree of Life to those who embrace her, and through Wisdom the One is known. I believe that the study of Wisdom Literature (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, Pirke Avot, and the Gospel of Thomas to same just a few of the books in this tradition) is a legitimate Jewish yoga with the potential to awaken the student to God in, with, and as all things.
Jesus was a Wisdom sage who taught, as all such sages do, through aphorism, metaphor, and parable— the pedagogy of Wisdom. He was not the first such sage, nor is he the last. Not everything ascribed to Jesus is wise, and no one can know what he actually said or meant, but I believe that much of his message, his insights into the kingdom of God, and his parables are among the greatest of Wisdom teachings.
Jesus is not my savior, but he is my teacher. He is not my Christ but he is my rebbe. I am a hasid of Jesus as I am of Hillel, Isaiah, Krishna, Buddha, Mohammed, Rumi, Ramana, Krishnamurti, and others. I am a devotee of Chochma, and whoever speaks her message is my teacher.
Does this make me a Christian? No, for Jesus is not my Lord and Savior. Does this put me outside of Judaism? No, for Wisdom is a legitimate strand of Judaism, and Jesus is one of her masters.
So when Jesus asks me, “Who do you say I am?” I respond, “You are my teacher, a realized sage of Wisdom.” To which he then says, “Good, now let’s learn.”