Rebirth, Resurrection, and the Millennium
by Joseph G. Marino and M. Sue Benford
     The authors examine traditional beliefs about Jesus, which often makes people emphasize his divinity over his humanity, thus building a huge chasm between him and us.  They cite various biblical passages that indicate that he is more similar to us than we tend to think.  The authors discuss how the controversial Shroud of Turin could play a key role in the approaching millennium in revealing how similar we are to Jesus.  They also give us new insights into his teachings and the nature of our souls.
    Although we are both spiritual and physical beings, it must be acknowledged that our physical nature can obscure our spiritual nature.  When Jesus taught and performed many signs in Palestine nearly 2,000 years ago, he endeavored to get the people to see beyond the marvels of the externals to grasp the spiritual meanings behind them.  After performing one sign, Jesus had to escape to the mountains because the people, focusing on the wonders of the miracle, intended to make him their earthly king (Jn 6:15), with apparently no regard for Jesus' spiritual message.  Jesus desired that people discern his identity from the works he performed (Jn 10:38) without dwelling on the details of the external.  When the Pharisees questioned the man born blind whom Jesus healed, they obstinately sought details of the healing, while ignoring the meaning behind the act (Jn 9:13-34).  One of the most difficult things to accept for the Pharisees, and for many others throughout history, was the idea that God could be uniquely incarnated in a particular man, Jesus of Nazareth.  While there are those who can accept this profundity, Jesus' divinity often poses even for them an immense barrier in acceptance of his humanity.  So, while in theory we accept the idea that Jesus is our brother, in practice we still more often associate him with the Transcendent God, who will judge us at the end of time.  There are many biblical passages that reinforce this idea.  Many Christians perceive and experience a huge chasm between themselves and Jesus because of his divinity and do not feel particularly close to him because of it. 
However, there are also Scriptural passages that emphasize our similarity and human bond with Jesus (e.g., Mk 10:17-18, Mk 13:32, Jn 14:12, Jn 15:15, He 2:11-18, He 4:15).  Have we ignored or lost sight of the fact that Jesus at times appears ever so human?  In one instance, Jesus suggests that he does not even want to be with his apostles, when he angrily bursts out, "How much longer must I be with you?" (Lk 9:41)  This does not seem very God-like, but it is very human-like.   Scholars have often tried to soften or explain away Jesus calling the Syro-Phoenician woman a "dog," (Mk 7:24ff) a common derogatory term used by Jews of his day.   However, the simplest explanation might be that, as a fully human 1st century Jew, he experienced some of the same feelings as other Jews of his milieu.  As a human, is not spiritual progress a possibility, and indeed, a necessity?  Being fully human, was it not likely for Jesus to experience a feeling and to proceed beyond that feeling?  Why did Jesus at first tell his apostles that he was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel (Mt 10:5-6) when he later told them to go out to the whole world (Mt 28:19)?  Is it not probable that his spiritual growth as a human being could have had something to do with the change?
    Passages such as these can help remind us that our perception of what it means to be human has been perhaps at times skewed by an idealistic theology.  Just as the Pharisees let their theology become a barrier in accepting Jesus' message, our personal or even institutional theologies can also become barriers in accepting his message. It is more likely that we can accept his teaching if we identify more closely with him than if we view him as some otherworldly being.  
    Jesus attempted, through his teachings, to show humankind the way to the Father (Jn 14:6).  Being human, however, we can fall victim to the same traps to which the people of the gospels often fell prey:  getting distracted by the details of signs or not understanding his teachings because of spiritual obtuseness. 
    It is possible that something exists today that can be utilized to better explicate this notion.   In a recent article, we suggested that the Shroud of Turin could be the very burial cloth in which Jesus was wrapped after his death (Marino and Benford, 1999). The Shroud of Turin is the most intensely studied artifact in human history.  Ever since the first pictures were taken of the Shroud in 1898, which revealed the powerful positive image of a crucified Semitic male, theologians, researchers and scientists have devoted enormous time and energy to study this inexplicable mystery.  In one of the major ironies of the 20th century, many theologians scoffed at the idea that this was the actual burial cloth of Jesus, while some scientists, some of whom had been agnostic or atheist, believed it to be authentic.  Over 250,000 hours have been spent analyzing the data collected by the scientific group (STURP--Shroud of Turin Research Project) that studied the Shroud for five days in 1978.
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