“Who do you say that I am?” (1): Trust

As I said at the end of my previous post, Justin Lewis-Anthony suggests that Bosch’s Christ Mocked reflects two themes concerning the nature of Christ that “speak particularly to us today”. Each theme is concerned with answering Jesus’ question: “Who do people say that I am?” – a question that Christ’s gaze at us out of Bosch’s painting asks with fresh intensity.

The first of these themes is trust. In a suspicious and cynical world, Jesus stands as one whom we can trust – above all, as one we can trust in his vulnerability, smallness and weakness as a human being. Lewis-Anthony observes that the negative reactions to Mark Wallinger’s Ecce Homo (“You couldn’t put your faith in someone like that, he’s as weak as a kitten!”) show how hard we find it to trust someone who is vulnerable and weak.

However, vulnerability, smallness and weakness are qualitatively different from ours:

All of Jesus’s human qualities are human qualities from which the abuse of power has been removed. … If you want to see a human being living without the corrosive effects of the abuse of power, then look at the carpenter from Nazareth.

This reminds me of James Alison’s emphasis on Jesus as the one whose desire is entirely without rivalry towards others – in contrast to our own desires, which are formed in imitation of others (“mimesis”) and consequently put us into rivalry with those we imitate.

Rivalry destroys trust, but – as Bosch depicts so powerfully in this painting – Jesus stands before us as one whose love is entire without rivalry and hence entirely to be trusted. Faith in Jesus – trusting him – is, in Rowan Williams’ phrase, about “living in Jesus’s company”.

Lewis-Anthony goes on to quote Williams as follows:

Trust this, live in Jesus’ company, and you become a citizen of a new world, the world in which God’s rule has arrived. You will still be living in the everyday world in which many other powers claim to be ruling; but you will have become free of them, free to co-operate or not, depending on how far they allow you to be ruled by God. And what you do and say will become a sign of what is coming. Your life will give a foretaste of God’s rule…

Trust has to do with the “space” in which we encounter Jesus; the second answer identified by Lewis-Anthony to the question “Who do you say that I am?” relates to the time in which we encounter him. I’ll turn to that in my next post.

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