On Meeting Jesus – A Debt of Gratitude
David Weiss – January 21, 2015
Right now my heart is heavy, not with sadness at the news of Marcus Borg’s death, but with gratitude for the gift of his life. As a writer and a scholar, my life is measured perhaps most of all by the words in which I dwell. I never met Marcus Borg personally—never even heard him speak, but his words have shaped my understanding of Jesus more deeply than any other words I’ve read or heard. He was my evangelist. In his writing, the news about Jesus became truly good to me—became gospel.
I met this Jesus in my lived experience before I met him in Marcus’s books. I began to sense Jesus’ passion for justice in seminary in the early 80’s through other authors, most notably John Howard Yoder. I began to follow this Jesus in the mid-late 80’s, devoting my energy to anti-apartheid and anti-nuclear weapons activism. But when I read Jesus, A New Vision (1987) after returning to graduate school in the early 90’s all my intuitions, already expressed in my activism and my own writing, found academic depth and clarity in his words.
I didn’t so much “agree” with Marcus’s scholarship as I simply recognized within it a portrait of the man whose company I sought to keep—a pattern of sacred living that I hoped to emulate in my own life … and one that on rare occasions I have actually tasted in my own bones.
There are those who would say Marcus lost his faith. That, in his scholarship on Jesus, he made too many “concessions” to a scientific worldview. That he was too quick to explain away the miraculous or to hedge on a bodily resurrection. No.
He recognized that the real miracles in Jesus’ life were not the deeds in which he seemed to work magic. The real miracles were the moments in which Jesus’ teaching, healing, or fellowship exploded boundaries through sly wit, prophetic declaration, or unexpected compassion. The real miracle wrought by Jesus was not any super-natural eclipse of the laws of physics, it was the mundane but astonishing reach of grace into human lives. I think it’s quite possible that the sheer force of Jesus’ life energy may have effected genuine healing “miracles,” but what truly ought to leave each of us wide-eyed and captivated by Jesus is his compassion. There is no greater miracle, no greater revelation of God. And Marcus, through his scholarly study and eloquent writing, bore witness to that.
If, as one wed to the disciplined skepticism of science and scholarship, Marcus declined to affirm the bodily resurrection, that was a scholar’s choice not a failure of faith. In fact, he was clear that, in his view, belief in a bodily resurrection was less central to faith than the heartfelt conviction that Jesus’ message of compassion is worth resurrecting in our lives day by day. Making Easter a spiritual-ethical mystery of joy known in our bodies today.
No loss of faith here, but rather its fullness. Mundane. Humble. Hopeful. Incarnate. In my classrooms across two decades now I have passed on glimpses of his (and my) understanding of Jesus as faithfully as I know how.
Marcus, godspeed. Whether you find yourself now keeping company with the stardust-dirt from whence we came or with angels chuckling at your academic earthbound caution, I am glad I found you where I did. In words ripe with grace.
Marcus J. Borg, scholar of Jesus, evangelist and renewer of the church
March 11, 1942 – January 21, 2015
Finally, here is a tiny reflection I penned six years back:
Meeting Jesus. Marcus Borg would be proud of me. Deeply influenced by his portrait of the historical Jesus unfolded across several books, I’d just presented my version of the Jesus story in sixty quick minutes to my theology class. Reaction was positive; discussion was vibrant; but what made my night was the anonymous note left by a student that simply read “Thank you for introducing me to a Jesus I can fall in love with.” Amen, sister. Just paying it forward. ~drw 06.15.09
David R. Weiss is the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, David is committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. He lives in St. Paul and speaks on college campuses and at church and community events. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more at www.ToTheTune.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” He recently published a playfully profound and slyly subversive children’s picture book, When God Was a Little Girl. Learn more at www.WhenGodWasaLittleGirl.com.