So I’ve been thinking, learning and listening a bit recently, about a concept I will call, ‘the anonymous Christ’. Its the idea that Jesus will show up at times and in ways that we didn’t see coming. We are well familiar with this idea. But what about if we flesh it out? What if Jesus can arrive unrecognised and proceed to minister among us, still without being recognised.
We know Jesus can show up in strange ways and places. A stable in Bethlehem being one of the more memorable, but not the only example. Alongside that we have the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 and the visit of the three strangers to Abraham in Genesis 18. This last example came to be understood by the Early Church as an encounter with the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, out for a stroll in the wilderness. What is fascinating is that they never bother to introduce themselves. We are left with the impression that God is happy to blow in and out of our awareness without needing to draw our attention to his coming or going. It reminds me of what has been called, ‘The Markan Secret’ – the way Jesus seems determined throughout Mark’s gospel that people keep it to themselves who has healed them and turned their lives right-side-up.
In my part of the church we have seen the pursuit of Jesus come to be code for developing spiritual sincerity and personal morality, and little else. What if Jesus is involved in much more? What if he is ‘on the loose’? Is this why the temple curtain was torn dividing the Holy of Holies from the rest of the world – not just to allow people in, but to allow God out?
Recently my friend Baxter Kruger pointed out in an address he was giving that the apostle Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus was not how we tend to think of it. While in the account in Acts 9, Jesus seems to appear to Paul externally, Baxter drew our attention to Galations 1:15-16, where Paul talks about encountering Jesus from his own perspective. He writes,
…when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles….
That’s right. You read it correctly. Paul (who at this stage is still ‘Saul the terror of the Early Church’, hunting and persecuting and imprisoning Christians), meets Jesus not standing by the road, or descending in a cloud of light from heaven, but in him. Jesus was already there, already at work. He was present in the midst of Saul’s anger and violence towards his own followers, just as he was present with his victims. This is a God who really does love his enemy.
So when people call out for ‘justice’, or long for ‘freedom’ might it not be Jesus they are really seeking? And based on what we see from the way our God is happy to work in mystery and secret, can we dare believe that this God might not hear the prayer in all our longing, and graciously give himself as the answer? I hope so.
Here’s a song I’ve just written inspired by all this, called ‘Many names’.
Many names – lyrics