There’s a personality disorder called narcissism, which is used to describe people who have an exaggerated sense of self-importance.
It’s good, of course, to value oneself, to have a healthy self-esteem.
But it’s not good to think that you are something really special, that you are more important than others, that you merit preferential treatment.
You might say – it’s not good to think you are God.
But extraordinary and insane as it sounds, this is what Jesus seems to think about himself. That he is equal with God, that he has the same authority as God, that when people see him – it’s the same as them seeing God.
There are very many verses and passages in the Bible where we find Jesus saying these things both indirectly and directly.
So was Jesus a narcissist?
Was Jesus sadly and madly deluded about who he was?
There’s a story in Luke’s account of the life of Jesus about a paralysed man whose friends bring him to Jesus for healing. They lower him through the roof of a house where Jesus is teaching, because it is so crowded that they can’t get in any other way.
Jesus says to the paralysed man, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.’
It’s like Jesus knows that – more than his physical disability – this man is most grievously disabled by guilt. And he wants him to know that he is forgiven. That God forgives him – whatever he has done.
And this is all good.
But the problem is that Jesus doesn’t say – as other religious leaders and prophets in his time would have said – ‘Thus says the Lord, “Your sins are forgiven you.”’
He just pronounces the forgiveness directly. As though he has the same power as God to forgive sins. As though he is God.
And this, not surprisingly, causes huge offence to the religious people around him. You can just hear the outcry. Who does he think he is? Does he think he is God?
Well, actually, yes. He does.
And Jesus goes on to make this clear. He says, ‘Just so you know I have the authority to forgive sins,’ and then, turning to the paralysed man, he continues, ‘Stand, take up your mat and walk!’ Which the paralysed man duly does. To the amazement of his friends and the crowd.
So what do we make of all this?
As we go on our journey together and get to know Jesus, we will need to ask ourselves this question.
We will quickly see that Jesus was a wise teacher, a great prophet and healer. But was he who he says he was? Was he one with God? Did he truly have the same authority as God? The same power, love and compassion as God?
Or was he just a narcissist?
When we look at other character traits of narcissists, we find that narcissists exaggerate their achievements, they fantasise about success and power, they only hang out with cool or important people, they require constant admiration, they are unable or unwilling to recognise the needs of others, they are arrogant and haughty.
Sound like Jesus?
Well, no. Not at all.
Jesus doesn’t exaggerate his achievements. He often tells people to say nothing of a healing or miracle that they have witnessed. He tells his disciples that, in the power of God’s spirit, they are equally capable of performing miracles – even greater than his own. And we see them doing this in the Bible stories after Jesus’ death in the book of The Acts of the Apostles.
Jesus doesn’t fantasise about success and power. At the beginning of his ministry, when tempted by these things in the wilderness, Jesus says an emphatic no.
Jesus doesn’t hang out with cool or important people. In fact, quite the opposite. He hangs out with people who are shunned, like cheats and prostitutes.
Jesus doesn’t require constant admiration. He says, ‘Beware, if everyone thinks well of you.’ He knows that to live a good life, the life God calls us to, means making ourselves unpopular sometimes. And risking shame and humiliation.
Jesus isn’t unable or unwilling to recognise the needs of others. He is constantly moved with compassion at the plight of those around him. He is always in the thick of it – where the greatest suffering and injustice are.
Jesus is not are arrogant and haughty. Born into a very ordinary family, living a humble life in the backwaters of the Roman empire, Jesus is never prideful. And he tells his disciples that they are ‘not to lord it over one another, as other people do.’ They are to love their neighbours as themselves. Even those who are different. Even those who are of other faiths.
So, if Jesus is not a narcissist. Then who is he?
At the beginning of my Christian journey, I felt very aware of my sinfulness. I was a bit like the paralysed man. As I got close to Jesus, it was like Jesus could see that I was burdened by guilt. Although I wouldn’t have recognised the presence of Jesus at the time.
Nonetheless, one day, I found myself in a church. And was feeling the weight of my sins. The vicar saw me, came up to me and, after a brief conversation, he gave me a stone and suggested I put it down at the foot of the cross. I got up and did this. And, as I knelt at the cross and put down my stone, I felt the burden of my sins slip from my shoulders. I was released. I was forgiven.
And then it was like someone said, Stand, pick up your mat and walk.
I got up and walked out of that church a new person. Forgiven. And healed.
I didn’t understand the theology of what had happened. I still don’t think I do.
But something did happen. Some kind of miracle.
And Jesus – or God - was at the heart of it.
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Posted by Martine Oborne