I frequently mention in these columns that the renowned 20th-century scholar of the Christian Scriptures, Rudolf Bultmann, put the authors of those writings in their proper historical perspective by reminding his students, "After Jesus' death and resurrection, the preacher became the preached."

It was a concise, catchy way of describing the 180-degree emphasis-change from the ministry of their historical Jesus to the early Church's experience of the risen Jesus.

During His brief earthly ministry, Jesus of Nazareth preached a message that zeroed in on God's presence among us. After His resurrection, the disciples who had originally heard that proclamation   began to preach the Jesus who perfectly embodied that presence.

Titles for Jesus

This switch from preacher to preached is the theological force that gives life to Sunday's second and third readings, and the basis for the early Christian interpretation of the first reading. The first Christians, including the authors of Revelation and John's Gospel, are beginning to create titles for the risen Jesus that will convey the important role He plays in theireveryday lives.

Since someone "coming on the clouds of heaven" conjures of images of the God who lives above the clouds of heaven, Jesus' first disciples quickly latched on to Daniel to describe the effect He had on them (Dan. 7:13-14). They believed He alone had "recieved dominion, glory, and kingship." It was their hope that eventually "all peoples, nations, and languages (would) serve Him."

And it was their belief that "His dominion [would be] an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away. His kingship shall not be destroyed. "The best things said about any "son of man" had to be said about Jesus.

The author of Revelation goes one step further (Rev. 1:5-8). He's convinced that Jesus' importance also makes us important. "The faithful witness," he writes, "the firstborn of the dead and rule of the kings of the earth... loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood... (and) made us into a kingdom, priests for His God and Father." Those who have chosen to become "other Christs" have likewise chosen to share in Christ's power. What He did, we continue to do.

King of Kings

Yet, one title employed to describe the most significant individuals created problems when the early Christian community applied it to Jesus. This ambivalence is behind John's famous exchange between Jesus and Pilate (John 18: 33-37).

"Are you the King of the Jews?" Pilate asks.

Jesus quickly demands to know, "Do you say this on your own, or hae others told you about me?" In other words, "What do people see in me to prompt you to ask about my being a king?"

Until recently, people believed kings (and queens) recieved their authority to rule directly from God. But even people in the ancient world knew many kings exercised that authority in selfish, destructive ways. Calling someone a king didn't automatically convey an image of generous service.

That seems to be why John's Jesus states, "My kingdom does not belong to this world... My kingdom is not here." Were Jesus simply a human king, He'd have to accept the baggage that human kings carry.

When Pilate asks point-blank, "Then you are a king?" Jesus side-steps a direct answer. "You say I am a king," He responds. The implication is that Pilate improperly gives Jesus this title. He Himself would like to be remembered simply as someone who came "to testify to the truth." That's why John ends Jesus' part of the dialogue with the statement, "Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

Perhaps Jesus' words are a warning to us to spend less time giving titles to the preacher and more time listening to the message He preached.

(11/20/03)