In Luke’s gospel, the Spirit descends upon Jesus at his baptism, and full of the Holy Spirit, he is led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan. He then returns to Galilee “filled with the power of the Spirit,” and preaches in the synagogue in Nazareth from Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor… .” In the space of one chapter, there are five references to the Holy Spirit coming upon or filling Jesus with power. Luke’s conclusion is unmistakable, Jesus fulfills his ministry by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This clear association between the Holy Spirit and Jesus seems obvious enough to us who have come to think of God in Trinitarian terms. It reinforces for us our belief in the divinity of Jesus. I would like to suggest, however, that it says as much about Jesus’ humanity as it does his divinity.
Luke’s emphasis on Jesus’ ministry being accomplished in the power of the Spirit has always struck me. Of course, it sets up the story of Acts where the church continues the ministry of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit poured out on all flesh at Pentecost. Jesus ministers in the power of the Spirit. The church ministers in the power of the Spirit. Luke could, however, make the point that the church ministers in the power of the risen Christ without emphasizing the same about Jesus in such an emphatic way. After all, it would seem that divine power would come as a standard feature for anyone bearing the designation, “Son of God.” Doesn’t Jesus do things in his own power? Why would there be a need to emphasize the power of the Holy Spirit?
We think of Jesus the way we Westerners think of most individuals. What it means to be an individual is to be distinct, autonomous, self-possessing and self-directing. We are individuals before we are persons in relation. This view of what it means to be a self would be even more true of Jesus. Everything comes on board. Jesus is autonomous and self-possessing, without need.
Charles Taylor describes the modern view of what it means to be an individual as a “buffered self,” as opposed to earlier views of what it meant to be human that were characterized by porosity, the boundary of the self being open and fluid to powers beyond an interior life. The buffered self, however, is the task of the individual, to determine our identities through self-discovery. Jesus is not a buffered self. His identity is conferred upon him at his baptism. He is the beloved Son of the Father, and he lives out that identity not in his own power, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ identity comes to him through a community of persons. His life is porous to the Holy Spirit. To use John Zizioulas’ term, he is a being in relation.
If this is true of Jesus’ humanity, then it is surely true of our as well. We are not self-originating, self-possessing individuals. There is nothing we have that has not been mediated to us in some way. We exist in a complex of relational, biological, and social factors that precede us and constitute our identities in many ways. This does not deny our agency or responsibility for our lives, but it surely suggests we are more than buffered selves.
In fact, the blessing of being in Christ is that we have an identity conferred upon us at our baptism. Like Jesus, we also have confirmation that we are beloved by God and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This does not negate other factors in our life that influence our identities, but it places these within this more fundamental framework. The difficulty of constructing our own identities as a task is that we are porous selves and it is often hard to sort out who we are amid the cacophony of voices and memory fragments and powers that we accumulate as we move through life. Salvation is in large measure the gift of an unshakeable narrative that doesn’t replace our own, but offers healing and reconciling love in the midst of all our contradictions. This is surely to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.