The place to begin any discussion of Christianity is the provinces of Judea and Galilee of the Roman empire some 2,000 years ago-areas today of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. In those lands, a Jewish teacher would emerge by the name of Jesus of Nazareth, from a small village in Galilee. He gained a following of fellow Jews. While always observant of the ways of the Law of Moses, he often seemed to stretch the teachings of Moses. He cured the sick, raised the dead, and worked miracles of calming storms and feeding thousands. He taught with parables. The parable is a form of story telling that is to engage the listener in response and action.
From the gospel called Luke, we read:
Who among you if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wasteland and follow the lost one until he finds it? And when he finds it, he puts it on his shoulders in jubilation. Once arrived home, he invites friends and neighbors in and says to them, "Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep." I tell you there will likewise be more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent."
Simple story but many levels of meaning. Obviously we are talking about shepherds-and in the scriptures of the Old Testament God is the people's shepherd and so would Jesus identify himself. The sheep are the people Jesus is talking to--some consider themselves righteous and other consider themselves lost and sinners. The shepherd went out looking for the lost sheep. The initiative comes from the shepherd and he comes looking.
For Christians, this simple parable sums up our religion in a way that reveals some very important traits of the God we believe in. God is looking to enter into a relationship with humanity. From the opening lines of the Bible God is engaged in a dialogue with his creation-Adam and Eve. When they lose their way and sin, it is God that is depicted as searching for them. The human race is always being lured away from God into its own meanderings and pride. And yet God does not let us go; he comes after us.
In the person of Jesus of Nazareth, Christians see God coming in search of us. Through his life of prayer and teaching, he imparted to his followers a wisdom of life that invited them to trust in God's way above all others.
Jesus preached the Kingdom of God also translated as the Reign of God. For Jesus, living under the sway of God in a person's life was the only way to find salvation. Salvation is the wholeness or completeness of human existence. It is what each person is looking for and searching for his own life.
Jesus' life ended in a death by crucifixion. This event is so important that the cross is the most widely recognizable symbol of Christianity. This form of punishment used by the Romans and even the Persians before them was an excruciating way to punish a criminal by attaching him by nails or ropes to the cross beam from which he would hang. There was a wooden footrest from which he could leverage his body so he could continue to breath but as he would become weaker and weaker through the strain he would eventually die by a form of suffocation. This did not always take a few hours as it did with Jesus. Some would be hanging for some days.
Jesus died as innocent of any real charges. Jesus was seen as a threat to some of the religious authorities that held sway in Jerusalem as well as a threat to the political stability because of his popularity and unsettling talk of the Kingdom, that sounded to some as a rally cry for insurrection! His burial took place through the kind courtesy of a wealthy follower. Three days after his death, he appeared to the twelve and some women followers. The twelve were his closest associates in his ministry of teaching and miracle working. The apostles as they are called proclaimed that he was raised from the dead and would no longer die. Not only had the resurrection of dead begun in him, but Christians acknowledged him to have reached the pinnacle of the divine presence and was called, "Lord."
Christianity affirms there is but one God and yet the divinity is revealed in this Jesus on earth, without any change of the divinity in heaven or its multiplication. This divine presence would be further affirmed in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which is the final stage of the revelation of the divinity that was revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. So Christians speak of the Trinity-from the Latin tri- three and unity or one-Father, Son and Holy Spirit-one divinity, three persons.
The trinity affirms first and foremost the oneness of God and the identification of this one God to the God worshipped by the Abraham and Moses. The Son becomes incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary, for he has no father except the Divinity and his birth is not by sexual union for the Father as divine has no sexuality for that is only for creatures. The humanity of this Jesus now is glorified and each human being is offered the way to a share in that glory. This message is the basic message that each Christian accepts as the revelation of God. This is the Gospel of Redemption or salvation. A very important summary of the key teachings about God are found in the
Nicene Creed, which is recited in Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches every Sunday and used by Protestant Christians from time to time in study and worship.
See Also: Nicene Creed
Next Topic: Messiah
Fr. Joseph Hilinski is a pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Cleveland, Ohio as well as Director for Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs of the Diocese of Cleveland. He has a Master of Divinity from St. Mary School of Theology in Cleveland and was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1974.
This short course is from a presentation to The "Understanding World Faith
Traditions," a workshop organized by the International Community Council at John Carroll University,
on June 6, 2004.