Central Vision of Jesus as seen by John Powell
All the passages below are taken from John Powell’s book “Fully Human Fully Alive,” published in 1976.
There is an interesting dialogue between Jesus and his contemporaries recorded in the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel. Jesus makes the point that only the truth, the full acceptance of reality, can make a person free.
If you make my message [vision] the rule of your life, you will then know the truth and the truth will make yon free!
When his hearers profess puzzlement at this idea of liberation by truth, pointing out that they have “never been the slaves of anyone,” Jesus repeats that he is himself the source of true freedom:
So if the Son makes you free
you will really be free!
True health resides principally in one’s vision, in one’s deepest attitudes; it is not merely the absence of symptoms. Likewise, true freedom has its roots in one’s basic vision of reality; it is not merely the absence of coercion from external forces. I see the person of Jesus liberated by a vision that results in a startling freedom: He is free enough to love and to associate with prodigals and prostitutes, and at the end to express a quaking fear and still die freely as an act of love.
If you make my message [vision] the rule of your life,
you will then know the truth and the truth will make you free!
What is the vision of Jesus which lies under his message and manner of life? Whatever else it is, it is certainly a call to the fullness of life.
I am come that they may have life
and have it to the full. John 10:10
At the risk of seeming presumptuous, I would like now to describe some of the central features of the vision of Jesus, as I see them. I think that the message, the life, and the person of Jesus are saying to us:
1. God is love.
This means that all God does is love. As the sun only shines, conferring its light and warmth on those who stand ready to receive them, so God only loves, conferring his light and warmth on those who would receive them. This means that God does not have anger in him. He does not punish. When we separate ourselves from God and his love by sin, all the change takes place in us, never in him. He is unchangeably loving. Love is sharing, the sharing of one’s self and one’s life. God’s intention in creating us in this world was to share himself and his life with us. In fathering this life in us, God calls us to be his human family, to become a community of love, each wanting and working for the true happiness of all.
2. You are loved by God, unconditionally and as you are.
God has assured you through his prophets and through his Son that even if a mother were to forget the child of her womb, he would never forget you. Your name is carved in the palms of his hands, inscribed indelibly in his heart. You do not have to win or earn or be worthy of his love. It is a “given.” Of course, you can refuse to accept it. You can separate yourself from God’s love for a while or even for an eternity. Whatever your response, all during your life and at every moment of your life he will he there offering his love to you, even at those times when you are distracted or refusing it.
Wherever you are in your development, whatever you are doing, with a strong affirmation of all your goodness and good deeds, with a gentle understanding of your weakness, God is forever loving you. You do not have to change, grow, or be good in order to be loved. Rather, you are loved so that you can change, grow, and be good. Your realization of this unconditional love is extremely important. You must remember people like:
Peter the Rock, who was often a sandpile, a loudmouth, a man who had denied even knowing the one who had loved him most.
Zacchaeus, who was a runt, who offered to collect taxes for Rome from his own people for a “kickback” from the take.
Mary Magdalene, who was a “hooker.”
James and John, who were mama’s boys and pretty ridiculous at times, such as the time when they wanted to destroy a whole town which had given them a poor reception. The “Sons of Thunder,” they were laughingly called.
Andrew, who was pretty naive. He thought five loaves and two fish were enough for five thousand people.
Thomas, who was an all-star bullhead.
Martha, who was a twitch, worrier, and complainer.
The woman taken in adultery, who was pretty frightened until Jesus saved her life and forgave her sin.
The thief on the cross, who said what might have been his first prayer and was promised immediate paradise.
The blind man, who didn’t know who Jesus was but only that he himself was blind and now he could see!
The paralyzed boy, whose body needed healing but who first needed to have his sins forgiven.
The prodigal son, who was pretty heartless but who came home when he was hungry into his father’s open arms and open heart.
Saul of Tarsus, who was hellbent on destroying Christianity until he took that road to Damascus and found a loving Lord.
God was in Jesus, loving them, affirming them, forgiving them, encouraging them, challenging them all the way into greatness, peace, and the fullness of life: and millions more like them, and like us.
3. The providence of God rules the world. Jesus is the Lord of human history.
At times you may experience the feeling that everything is falling apart. You wonder: What is the world coming to? What am I coming to? How will I make ends meet? Who is going to push my wheelchair? You do not consciously define or defend the thought, but sometimes you may be tempted to imagine God with his back to the wall, furious and frustrated at the fact that everything has gotten out of hand. “King Christ, this world is a leak; and life-preservers there are none” (e. e. cummings). In the words of Saint Paul: ‘Jesus is the Lord!” You must remember that this world, the course of human history and human destiny are in his hands. He is in charge of this world. He alone has the game plan, total knowledge of the human situation and the power to turn things around completely. Do not try to make yourself the Messiah to all people or caretaker to the world. You are not equipped to cover so much territory or bear such a burden. Reflect upon these words until they have formed a new insight in you and have become deeply embedded in your vision:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, not about your body and how you are to clothe it. For life means more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the birds of the air. They do not sow or reap; they have no storehouses and no barns; yet God feeds them. And how much more are you worth than the birds! Can any of you, for all his worrying, add a single cubit to his span of life? If the smallest things, therefore, are outside your control, why worry about the rest? Think of the flowers; they never have to spin or weave; yet I assure you, not even Solomon in all his regalia was robed like one of these. Now if that is how God clothes the grass in the field which is there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, how much more will he look after you, you of little faith! But you, you must not set your hearts on things to cat and things to drink; nor must you worry. It is the pagans of this world who set their hearts on all these things. Your father well knows you need them. No; set your hearts on his kingdom, and these other things will be given to you as well.”
4. You are called to love: your God, yourself, and your neighbor.
God, who is love, has made you in his image and likeness. Love is your calling and destiny. It is the perfection of your human nature. Love is also a gift of God, the highest gift of God’s Spirit. It is necessary that you realize the importance of loving yourself. There has to be sonic kind of logical, if not chronological, priority to loving yourself. If you do not love yourself, you will he filled with pain, and this pain will keep all your attention riveted on yourself. Agony constricts our consciousness. If you do not love yourself, you cannot truly love either God or your neighbor. So you must learn to do the same things for yourself that you would do in loving others: You must acknowledge and affirm all that is good in you. You must gently try to understand all that is weak and limited. You must be aware of and try to fulfill your needs: physical, psychological, and spiritual. As you learn to love yourself, you must also learn to balance concern for yourself with concern for others. “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters you do for me.” But remember that your success in loving will be proportionate to your openness in accepting the love and affirmation of God. It will likewise be proportionate to the love that you have for yourself. In the end, the success of your life will be judged by how sensitively and delicately you have loved.
5. I will be with you.
God says: I am covenanted, committed forever to love you, to do whatever is best for you. I will be kind, encouraging and enabling, but I will also be challenging. At times I will come to comfort you in your affliction. At other times I will come to afflict you in your comfort. Whatever I do, it will always be an act of love and an invitation to growth. I will be with you to illuminate your darkness, to strengthen your weakness, to fill your emptiness, to heal your brokenness, to cure your sickness, to straighten what may be bent in you, and to revive whatever good things may have died in you. Remain united to me, accept my love, enjoy the warmth of my friendship, avail yourself of my power, and you will bear much fruit. You will have life in all its fullness.
6. Your destiny is eternal life.
God says: By all means join the dance and sing the songs of a full life. At the same time, remember that you are a pilgrim. You are on your way to an eternal home which I have prepared for you. Eternal life has already begun in you but it is not perfectly completed. There are still inevitable sufferings. But remember that the sufferings of this present stage of your life are nothing compared to the glory that you will see revealed in you someday. Eye has not ever seen, nor ear ever heard, nor has the mind ever imagined the joy prepared for you because you have opened yourself to the gift of my love. On your way to our eternal home, enjoy the journey. Let your happiness be double, in the joyful possession of what you have and in the eager anticipation of what will be. Say a resounding “Yes!” to life and to love at all times. Someday you will come up into my mountain, and then for you all the clocks and calendars will have finished their counting. Together with all my children, you will be mine and I will be yours forever.
. . . . .
This is, as I see it, the basic vision proposed in the Gospels (the good news) of Christians. It offers a perspective of life and death—a vision of reality—that is reassuring and at the same time challenging. It provides a needed sense of security, but also meaning and purpose in life. It gives us a basic frame of reference to understand ourselves, our brothers and sisters in the human family, the meaning of life and the world, and God as our loving Father. For the believer it offers a vision of reality or belief system through which all the activating events of our human lives can be interpreted and evaluated. It is a reassurance of what reality is by the Maker of all that is.
This vision of religious faith remains for some people a sweet but mere construct, only a pair of lovely rose-colored glasses to tint and tone down the harsh demands of reality. Again, the decisive factor is personal religious experience, the touch of God. One must he actively engaged with and educated by the Holy Spirit, who alone can make a person a believer. Faith is not a matter of logical reasoning or a natural acquisition. It is a matter of experience. Only God’s Spirit can provide the needed religious experience. Only the touch of grace can make the Christian message more than a code of conduct and comfort for pious and plastic people.
It cannot be repeated too often that a living faith is not a human skill or acquisition. We do not pick up “believing” as we would learn, for example, to play the piano. We must be touched by the Spirit of God. The difference in one who has been touched in this way is so profound that Saint Paul calls this person a “new creation.” Such a one is, as we say, a new person. Paul calls a life which has not been touched and transformed by the Spirit “life according to the flesh.” The life of a person who has been renewed by the Spirit lives a “life according to the Spirit.”
Jesus says that it is the Spirit who gives us a certain instinct or intuition that we are affirmed by God. It is through the Spirit that we know we are his beloved children. It is the Spirit who calls out of our hearts the tender and loving words: “Father!”
Even if we did once know Christ in the flesh, that is not how we know him now. And for everyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here. It is all God’s work. It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation. In other words, God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself.
2 Corinthians 5:16-19
Paul himself is so deeply moved by the reality of this complete transformation that he expresses his personal experience in the line: “I live, now no longer I, but Christ lives in me!” (Galatians 2:20).
We have said that we need a vision when we look out at reality through the eyes of our mind. When we perceive ourselves, other people, life, the world, and God, we have to make some kind of an interpretation or evaluation. We need some kind of order and predictability because we cannot abide chaos. It is the touch of the Spirit that provides the kind of focus and clarity that we need in order to see clearly and to live fully.
In the first words of the first book of the Bible, Genesis, the Spirit of God is depicted as bringing the order of creation out of the primordial chaos.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void [chaos]; there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water.
It is by this Spirit that confusion and chaos are transformed into the loveliness of creation. Eight chapters later, in the narration of the Flood, it is the same Spirit of God that causes the waters of the flood to subside. Again he restores the order of creation out of the watery confusion and chaos. Through the prophet Joel, God promises that “it will come to pass that I will pour out my Spirit upon all humankind” (Joel 3:1; quoted in Acts 2:17).
It is this same Spirit of God who comes on the day of Pentecost to transform the disciples of Jesus from cowardly and confused men into clear-headed and convinced apostles. The chaos of their confusion is replaced by great clarity of purpose. It is the Spirit of God who directs the Christians of the early Church. His action appoints leaders, heals tile sick, melts hearts, and enables people to love one another in an overwhelming release of power that will renew the face of the earth.
This touch of the Spirit transforms everything in a person and in his or her world. The person is indeed a new creation. The revelation of God, which might otherwise seem to be a fiction, is clearly a fact: a vision of reality. The touch of the Spirit results in a deep harmony, peace and order, replacing a kind of primordial chaos in a human being’s inner vision of reality. Consequently, all the emotional and behavioral patterns of the person touched by the Spirit are deeply affected. There is a new sense of integration and wholeness. The person experiences that “unity which has the Spirit as its foundation and peace as its binding force” (Ephesians 4:3). As a new creation, this man or woman is enabled by the Spirit to walk into the beautiful world of God and into the fullness of the life to which God has called his children. [136-145]