The Universality of Jesus Christ

In these days of Lent, I could not help but empathized with the occasion, as I likewise bring myself before the solemnity of faith, in the manner that I see fit. In this connection, let me present to you an article that I have read some years ago in an issue of Newsweek Magazine. It was titled “The Other Jesus” and was written by Kenneth L. Woodward in the March 27, 2000 issue of the said magazine. I have been a voracious reader of many periodicals in the past---both local and international---and of all the articles that I have read, this one turned out to be the most memorable for me and the one that I have especially kept not only because it was about faith and religion (which magazines like Newsweek and Time rarely venture into), but mainly because it was a very informative and insightful piece of writing. There is something about this article that I could not point to, which is the reason why I always go back to it every now and then, every time I go rummaging through old issues of magazines and newspapers. I don’t know why I always do these things. Delving into old papers and documents had become an annual ritual for me that without doing it even for once, my year is not complete. I like the feeling of going through old things that I have piled in boxes and huge envelopes because they almost always remind me of past things that endear to me, that I could go all day excavating through old books and photographs and the dust coming from them gives such a unique and amorous scent. This year, at this particular point in time, when the kids are mostly home for the school break and summer provides a lot of empty hours for empty pleasures, I went backtracking again, through piles of old magazines and found this one magazine that contained the article that became my favorite of all time.

Due to copyright restrictions, I won’t be able to present here the verbatim content of the article “The Other Jesus” but I am giving you the synopsis, as best as I could. The online archives section of the Newsweek Magazine have this article stacked but it isn’t free. If you have online subscription to it, you’ll have free access to past issues.

In Catholicism, our Lord Jesus Christ is revered as the Son of God, the most recognized member of the trinity and He is the Redeemer of Mankind. In Pope John Paul’s own words, “Christ is absolutely original and absolutely unique. If He were only a wise man like Socrates, if He were a prophet like Muhammad, if He were enlightened like Buddha, without doubt He would not be what He is (today).” The Gospel Christ is the most well-known personage of the Messiah and many of us had learn to know Him as the man who was born of a virgin, who healed the sick and made the blind see; One who brought back to life a man who had already gone dead; who once walked on water and calmed the storms in the sea; and who gave His life to humanity in order that the sins of the world may be taken away. This is the Lord Christ, as we know him.

But Jesus Christ is by Himself a universal icon that is also accepted and embraced by many other religions of the world.

For instance, Jesus Christ is one of the most revered prophets in Islam and His name is mentioned in the Quran in the most respectful of manner. Moslems fully believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary through a miraculous birth under a palm tree and that he had already spoken words when he was still an infant to the effect that He was indeed sent by God. What was a little unusual is that when there came a time that many doubted the birth of Jesus by a virgin, many Moslem scholars came to the front in order to defend and affirm this miraculous birth. If in the Gospels Jesus Christ was crucified and died on the cross, to resurrect three days later, the Quran on the one hand declared that He did not die at all and was in fact saved by Allah before He was crucified and was ascended directly to heaven. Moslems of all sects believe that Jesus Christ is the one prophet that will come back when the end of the world becomes near and will defeat the anti-Christ. To them, among all prophets and messengers, only He and Mary were untouched by Satan.

In Bhuddism, many Zen practitioners see both Jesus and Buddha as brethrens in their quest to spread the teaching of “universal love”. Parallels in their lives are reiterated as they were similarly born in a miraculous manner to chaste women, and both left home for the wilderness and were tempted by a Satan figure. Like Jesus, Buddha also work wonders and preached compassion, selflessness and altruism and had challenged the religious establishments pertaining to his time. A Russian anthropologist had once postulated that Jesus had one time in His life paid a visit to a Buddhist seminary in Bhuttan and His short sojourn there was even recorded in one of the documents written by monks there. These “findings” has gone largely unconfirmed of course, but this was clearly an attempt to inculcate the person of Jesus Christ into the context of Buddhism.

In Hinduism, Jesus takes the form of a legendary shaman that once journeyed to India and learned the ways of attaining god-consciousness. Many Hindus are drawn to the figure of Jesus as an image of compassion and non-violence—virtues that are taught in Hinduism. For them, Christ-consciousness, Krishna-consciousness, and God-consciousness are one and the same thing. If Jesus Christ had propagated the singular teaching of “Love thy neighbors”, Hindu philosophy adheres to the notion that says, “You and I are the same things.”

Jesus Christ as a revered icon is a more complicated affair in Judaism because for one, Christ had challenged its very norms and principles when He was here on Earth. For generations, the teachers of Judaism had tried to isolate Jesus Christ as a trivial revolutionary that spoke of heresy and religious rebelliousness and had caution every Jew to distance from Him. But in time, many reformists in Judaism had started to accept Jesus as an “admirable teacher” and one who personifies the sufferings and redemption of the Jewish people, through many struggles like the Holocaust and statelessness. And besides, Jesus Christ was a Jew Himself and that fact is undeniable by itself and therefore, Judaism remain to have a claim on His greatness.

This is the “Universal Jesus”; a figure that transcends not only geographical partitions but also penetrates the restrictions brought about by the differences of faiths in this world. He may not be seen in the same exact breath by every religion in this world, but a closer examination shows that He had become so revered by many that not only Christianity has a claim on Him, but also Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and even Judaism. All great religions of the world embrace Him as a religious icon, one way or another, in their own respective ways.
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