By Rev. Dr. Ronald Lloyd Ryan
I recently had a discussion with an acquaintance who, knowing my proclivity for having strange ideas, challenged me on my perception as Jesus being “just a man”. Of course, I do not say that Jesus is/was “just a man.” What I do say is that Jesus, a fully human man, can be a model for us, an exemplar, showing us what is possible for us to become, that Jesus was not and did not become anyone that we are not able to become, spiritually and ethically and compassionately.
My friend argued that Jesus was and became much more than humans can aspire to, that we can never reach the status of Jesus. My counter-argument is that if the status of Jesus is unattainable, then Jesus serves no purpose. It is as if we are asked to engage in a race that has no end. What is the point? Will we try to swim across a lake, knowing that we will never reach the other side? That would be idiocy! We would not be stupid enough to try. Or, take the case of a high school English teach that I know. He says that “My standards are so high that nobody can get an A in my class.” My comment, which angered him, was, “Then why the hell try?” In contrast, as an English teacher, I always told the students, “The entries in my grade- book are written in pencil. You can re-do any and all assignments and examinations as many times as you want to. Everybody can get an A.”
I was – and continue to be – astounded at how much work students were willing to do because they all knew that the A was within their grasp. I can tell story after story of students who were struggling, and who began to work once they believed that success was available. In fact, I had students in the tenth grade who, before the end of that year, were producing work that would rival second or third year university English students! No kidding!
One girl, tenth grade, for example, asked to prepare a book report on one of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books, read everything that the author had ever written and produced a 30-page paper in which she not only summarized the novels, but also compared and contrasted them and, finally, in her summary, did an evaluation of Montgomery’s success as an author.
The bottom line: Jesus was a man, no more than a man. We can attain a level of righteous, thoughtful living comparable to Jesus. In fact, we can exceed it!
Just keep in mind that whoever is keeping the grade-books is keeping them in pencil! We can all get As! We can all excel in life!
That is what Unitarian Christians mean when we say that Jesus is our exemplar!
(Oh, by the way. I am not the first one to say this. It has been a tenet of the faith of Unitarian Christians from the very beginning. The great Unitarian Christian preacher and theologian, William Ellery Channing, preached that message quite forcefully, even 200 years ago!)
Remember: The grade book is kept in pencil! We can all get As!