Recently I had to write a university essay in response to the question, “Did Jesus Believe He Was The Messiah?” Initially my reaction was ‘who cares?’ Not because the story of Jesus and his ministry, death and apparent resurrection is uninteresting to me, but because the Jesus story has always been for me, and many others, just that, a very powerful and stirring, story. Having not been brought up with any particular religious faith except for the pervading Christian culture of the western world, the Jesus myth awoke most deeply in my psyche in my late twenties when I spent a year living in Israel. Sitting by the banks of the Jordan river my whole being was flooded with images of Jesus, biblical narratives and myths that I didn’t recall ever being told as a child, and yet, there they were, clear as day. I knew them, and I knew that figure of Jesus because this land evoked it. The mystical sea of Galilee, the chaotic streets of Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, all of it held myths and stories that were living deep inside me presumably because I had grown up in a culture that also lived with them.
Such is the power of myth.
Myth is a term often misunderstood and used in a demeaning fashion to our contemporary scientific, rational perspective that likes to prove things and be historically accurate, but the true meaning of a myth, especially in a religious context, is that it is a doorway into another kind of consciousness, a bridge between the earthly realm and the spirit. As religious scholar Ninian Smart writes of the mythic dimension of all religious traditions, “all stories which involve the invisible, divine or sacred world are beyond straight history, and the text of the gospels is a ‘mirror; in which readers ‘see’ the world in which they themselves live.” Unfortunately, he also adds, the Christian tradition has all too often tended to treat its stories as true and historical and other peoples stories as ‘untrue’ making it far more difficult for people to transcend literalism here or overcome a deep wound that sees them completely reject the whole affair.
The myth of the Messiah affects us differently in many different ways. To the narcissist, messianic temptations can be potentially disastrous or at the very least a step closer towards a serious neurosis, but according to Joseph Campbell, the Messiah archetype is signalled by a “refutation of the world as it now stands and a prayer for something better in the days to come.” That prayer is certainly one that rings loud in our contemporary C19 climate as we contemplate, in our personal, secluded ‘Gethsemane experiences’ of isolation, all of the ways we are no longer interested in maintaining ‘normal’ and are being called loudly and some might say, apocalyptically, to seek a better future.
Archetypes are powerful. Carl Jung and his followers stressed the deep and abiding nature of the archetype and its immensely transformative and destructive potential as a living entity within the psyche. Edward Edinger, who wrote extensively about the Apocalypse archetype, described it in similar terms as a momentous event like the one we are now witnessing that “presents the shattering of the world as it has been, followed by its reconstitution.” And there in lies the mystery of Golgotha, the death and resurrection that this Easter weekend calls our imagination towards.
Jesus aroused Messianic expectations among the Jewish people at a time of great religious upheaval and discontent with heavy Roman rule. There is no historical evidence at all to suggest that he himself believed in that claim despite the clear longing of his disciples in their gospel messages to project that title onto him. There is no doubt, however, that the projection must have weighed almost as heavily upon him as the cross he was ultimately crucified on for his apparent claim to be King of the Jews, but in terms of historical evidence we have none.
Mythically, every time one hears the call deep in one’s soul to bring about much needed change both in the personal and the collective, the Messiah within is called. The one capable of bringing ‘good news’, a new message, a new path and paradigm for a better way forward. Too often we blame our poilitcians for not acting more like prophets and we heap our projected longing onto those individuals who hear the call strongly and act as catalysts or agents of change in our world, Greta Thurnburg coming to mind as one of many throughout our contemporary history, instead of turning inwards to that messianic figure who can think and do much more than we ever think we can.
Easter is a time for me to revisit the myth of the Messiah within. To ask what deep seated beliefs and ways of operating am I being called to change and how might I go about bringing that change, aware all the time that the price for such action most certainly involves some form of death and resurrection? To be aware like Luke was that this mythic kingdom of which Jesus spoke is not of this earth but “among you” and inside you as all great archetypal and mythical figures are, ready to draw upon when we are so called, out of our wholeness, to consciousness.
Smart, Ninian, Dimensions of the Sacred, Harper Collins, London, 1996. p.130.
Campbell, Joseph. The Mythic Dimension. New World Library. 2008. p. 81.
Edward Edinger, Archetype of the Apocalypse: A Jungian Study of the Book of Revelation, Chicago: Open Court, 1999. p.5
Gospel of Luke 17:20.