Tuesday, 07 August 2012 00:00

“The meaning of the Son of Man/Human One”, August 5, 2012

“The meaning of the Son of Man/Human One”
Daniel 7:13; John 12:27-36; Matthew 26:63-64;
Mark 13:22-26; Revelation 1:12-13, 14:14
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
August 5, 2012
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

When I opened the grab bag piece of paper to reveal the words, “the meaning of the Son of Man/Human One”, I thought, I have heard this one before.  I even recognized the handwriting.  You may remember that back in 2006 we touched briefly on this topic as we explored the resurrection of Mary Magdalene, our Lenten liturgical drama wherein Gayla Marty had us all exploring ideas of the ancient Christian writers, recently deceased theologian Jane Schaberg and even Virginia Woolf herself.  It was all part of a continuing quest to be authentic about our spirituality and responsible about our theology.  Today, I will try to unpack a bit more on this topic.  But this sermon is by no means the end of the discussion.  It is the beginning, or perhaps a step on our own journeys to be responsible translators of text and culture—all with the hope of reflecting God’s intention for us as individuals and as a people.

We hear the words “Son of Man” bandied about throughout scripture.  It’s an apocalyptic symbol.  It hails from Daniel, shows up in Ezekiel, the mini-apocalypse in Mark and of course in Revelation.  The Son of Man seems like a judge.  When this one appears you had better watch out or at least pay attention.  I like the bumper sticker that says “God is coming, look busy.”

“The Son of Man will come in glory…One like the Son of Man will set things right”, says the scriptures.  It all sounds so comforting and majestic.  Of course, it’s a very male focused symbol.  Is it referring to a son as in Jesus, the son of God?  Is Man referring to all of humanity or is it referring to the unique Hebrew people?  If we call this the generic “Human One” are we losing the dynamic offspring image?  If we say child of humanity is it just too darn politically correct and not dynamic enough?  What do we do with this important symbol whose name is so very important that the messianic figurehead is not identified with a person, except as the future one who is coming.


In Daniel 7:13 the Greek for Son of Man is huois anthropou which means literally one like a human being.  So, Human One is a good translation.

Jesus is referred to as the huois anthropou/Son of Man no less than 88 times in the NT.  It’s a Mesopotamian title for a messianic figure.  But Ezekiel was called the Son of Man/huois anthropou 93 times.  Is it a designation that the son of man is a human being, and not just an other-worldly phenomenon?

The Gospel of John uses “Human One” more than any other gospel writer.  And when asked to explain what it means, John writes in verse 34: “The crowd answered him, “we have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever.  How can you say that the Son of Man/Human One must be lifted up?  Who is this “Son of Man?”  Jesus answers by not answering.  He talks about all of us becoming children of the light.  Um.  Not a very satisfactory answer if you ask me.

Jesus seems to refer to the Human One in the third person.  Why?  Hold that thought.

But all of that is background.  What does it mean to us that the Human One came to be in Jesus?  What about the story of Jesus makes it so important that it is tied to this vital designation huois anthropou—one like a human being?  It is saying that this human being is more than simply a human being.  It’s what we call incarnational theology.  Now there’s a big word for you.  Incarnational theology is really nothing more than the idea that God has the power and the character of coming to earth in the very bones of people.  There are people in this room who have a piece of the God-nature in them. Sure, none of us are Jesus who perhaps had the most God-nature, but we are spiritual children of the Human One.  And as such, we have the inspiration and the responsibility to do great things in conjunction with God who creates, redeems and sustains us.

When we take on the waters of baptism, we make vows to walk in the ways of discipleship—to accentuate our God-nature and model and channel the life and ministry of Jesus.

The task of theology is to be true to our experience of God, to translate that into a sense of how God continues to operate in the world and to figure out how we are to make sense of and operate in this world.

At Peace Camp this past week, the Friday evening service was led by the youth.  They gave three sermons. One of them stood out to me.  It was by 17-year-old Anna Burkett from Granville, Ohio.  She said that she prays with her eyes open because that’s where she sees God—in the people who are made in God’s image and who have that God-spark in them.  Pretty good for a 17-year-old.  I think she was spot on.

Scripture says:
“You will see the Human One sitting at the right hand of God” (Matthew 26:64);

“Amidst the lampstands one like the Human One clothed in a long white robe with a golden girdle round the breast” (Rev. 1:13)

“You will see the Human One coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26)

All of these seem to come from the apocalyptic vision of Daniel when he wrote:

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Human One…”(Daniel 7:13)

In Daniel, the Human One is not simply a person, it is also a group of people, a movement of people committed to God and having been made new by God’s unique revelation.   The resurrection community can be the Human Ones we long for.

Daniel’s apocalypse, like Revelation’s relied on people taking a sociopolitical and ethical stand in hope—and faith in final justice, if for no other reason than because that is how God works.

Most of Christian theology has said that the Human One is Jesus himself.  And it seems to make some sense, all except for the fact that Jesus never really seemed to be too interested in making such a big deal about who he was or who he wasn’t.

We get into problems as we try to identify with one person and not a movement.  Jesus was always pointing out there toward the kingdom.  Jesus was pointing out there to the work that needs to be done.  Too much of Christian theology has pointed to the pointer, maybe as an attempt to soften or even diminish the political import of what Jesus was up to.  To equate Jesus alone with the heavenly Human One is to let the rest of us off the hook and absolve us of responsibility.  This seems antithetical to Jesus’ mission.

Jane Schaberg wrote:

“…the son of Man is “a powerful political symbol…of a specific way of being, living, and hoping embodied by Jesus and his followers.  The Son of Man is an alternative to other symbols of authority, such as the Roman emperor and his agents, the heirs of Herod the Great, and the messianic pretenders who attempted to overthrow Roman rule by force.”  It is a symbol used consistently by the author of Daniel, the Qumran community, the author of Revelation and other writers, teachers and prophets as well as Jesus, none of whom advocated violence, and none of whom was content with accommodation to the status quo.  “All called for resistance to the current unjust order by creating an alternative symbolic universe which sustained an alternative way of life.” (Schaberg, 2004:291 quoting A.Y. Collins’ work Origin of the Designation, p. 158)

“The root of the resurrection faith is an apocalyptic vision of the present reality and future hope of a renewed world free of suffering and death. “Resurrection does not simply spell the survival of the soul but requires the transformation of the world as we know it.””(Schaberg, 2004:302 quoting from Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza’s Miriam’s Child, 128)

So if the Human One is not simply an individual in the person of Jesus, but the greatest hope for all of us, the greatest vision for our world, the greatest aspiration for our movement, then every time we feed the hungry, we are doing the incarnational work of the Human One.

Every time we delve deeply into theology with the intent of setting people free, we are doing the work of the Human One.

Every time we say no to a dysfunctional relationship and say yes to honesty and integrity we are part of the communal experience of the Human One.

Every time we give of our time, our talent and our treasure so that the movement of the Human One can continue to thrive and set more people free, then we are doing the work of the Human One.

Every time we say the subversive word, or take the subversive action, every time we refuse collude with injustice, then we are doing the work of the Human One.

Every time we ask the questions why there are some insiders and some outsiders in the church or the school or even our own families, then we are doing the inclusive ultimately egalitarian work of the Human One.

Every time we commit to raising our children to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God, we are creating the community and perpetuating the incarnational work of the Human One.  We are becoming, collectively, Human Ones.

My friends, we worship, we pray and we work so that the Human One may thrive in the world.

I see Human Ones right here.

I see God becoming human in each of us and in all of us so long as we join in the good work of setting people free of the chains that have bound them.

I see Human Ones who will not sit back and let someone walk over someone else.

I see Human Ones who are willing, able, and audacious enough to speak for the voiceless.

Thank God for you.

Thank God for this church.

Thank God that the re-imagined movement of the Human Ones is alive and well and willing to set the course for the next revelation of God in the world.

Like little Lucca, we are all children in need of support, wisdom, patience and guidance.  May we give and receive that gracious guidance, modeling the life of Jesus and the Gospel of love.  That’s what it means to be the Human Ones, the incarnation of God in the world.  It’s the hope for the world and the reason for the church.

References are from Jane Schaberg’s book The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament. 2004.  Continuum Publishing, New York, London.