Jesus or Christ

Many people speak almost interchangeably of “Jesus” and “Christ.” It is easy to do, and I sometimes find myself doing it. But there is a danger of confusion when we fail to distinguish between the Jesus of history and the Christ.

I think Richard Rohr, in talking about the “Cosmic Christ,” is someone who does a very good job of explaining that distinction. I was watching a video of his the other day in which he pointed out that Jesus has existed for 2000 years, but Christ has existed for all eternity. (For those concerned he was making that up, he cites the Prologue of John, the hymns at the beginning of Colossians and Ephesians and 1 John 1.) Rohr observed that the Christ was born the moment God decided to show himself in the material world – what some refer to as the big bang. The Cosmic Christ was then revealed in a human person we could see and feel and fall in love with (and from whom we could learn who we are meant to be) – the historical Jesus.

Rohr talks about Jesus as the microcosm and Christ as the macrocosm, and reminds us that the movement from Jesus to Christ is one we need to imitate. In a passage I read adapted from one of Rohr’s lectures, he says:

A lot of us have so fallen in love with the historical Jesus that we worship him as such and stop right there. We never really follow the same full journey that he made, which is the death and resurrection journey—Jesus died and Christ rose.

Unless we make the same movement that Jesus did—from his one single life to his risen and transformed state (John 12:24)—we probably don’t really understand, experientially, what we mean by the Christ—and how we are part of that deal! This is why he said, “Follow me.” The Jesus that you and I participate in and are graced by and redeemed by is the risen Jesus who has become the Christ (Acts 2:36), which is an inclusive statement about all of us and all of creation too. Stay with this startling truth in the days ahead, and it will rearrange your mind and heart, and change the way you read the entire New Testament. Paul understood this to an amazing degree, which is why he almost always talks about “Christ” and hardly ever directly quotes “Jesus.” It is rather shocking once you realize it.

We devote a lot of concern to Jesus, and it is fitting that we do. But I think Rohr is right that we often miss the “Cosmic Christ,” the macrocosm. And it is the macrocosm that is The Way for all of us, whether or not we call ourselves Christians.