Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Jesus comes in the form of the beggar

Jesus stands at the door knocking (Rev. 3:20). In total reality, he comes in the form of the beggar, of the dissolute human child in ragged clothes, asking for help. He confronts you in every person that you meet. As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbor, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands on you. That is the great seriousness and great blessedness of the Advent message. Christ is standing at the door; he lives in the form of a human being among us.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is In the Manger

And in the form of anyone and anything, including the ones I personally don’t particularly like.

For me, he comes in the form of Trump, bigots, people who actively destroy nature, people who seem narrow-minded, people who don’t have the lives of future generations, in mind, and so on.

If we feel we need to understand this, we can see it in different ways.

Jesus speaks of and for love, and that is love for anyone. Metaphorically, Jesus takes the form of anyone because he wants us to find genuine love for anyone, including the ones our personality doesn’t like. Jesus wants us to love anyone as we love him.

Pragmatically, it shocks us a bit and can shake us out of our habitual views and orientations. We may know about the “love your enemy” pointer and sometimes set it aside in daily life. “I don’t need to find love for that one because he/she is a terrible person”. If we see the person as Jesus, it’s more difficult for us to justify not finding genuine love for him or her.

We can see Jesus as someone who recognized the divine and lived from that recognition. In that sense, he is an image of the potential in each of us. Each of us can be like him, it’s just that we are a bit confused. In that sense, everyone is, at least metaphorically, Jesus.

We can see Christ as a name for what we are. For our true nature. Capacity for the world. What the world, to us, happens within and as. What we are in our own first-person experience when we set aside our ideas of what we are. And we can see Jesus as someone who realized this and lived and talked from it. In that sense too, everyone is a potential Jesus. Everyone is Christ, even if it’s clouded over and we appear as a confused Christ.

Why did the Jesus of the Gospels embrace the outcasts of his time? One reason may be that he wanted to be a living demonstration of this.

As usual, there is a lot more to this. I’ll mention a few things.

Psychologically, the world is my mirror. I can take any story I have about anyone or anything in the wider world and find how it fits myself now and in the past. The way I relate to others mirror how I relate to parts of myself. It makes sense to find genuine love for others, including the ones my personality doesn’t like, because it helps me find love for more parts of myself, and that makes for a kinder and perhaps wiser life.

I can find genuine love for others, and I don’t need to condone what they do or say. I can do my best to prevent harm from their words and actions. Finding genuine love for them allows me to go out of reactivity, which in turn allows me to find more kind, wise, and perhaps effective ways of dealing with them.

How do I find genuine love for the ones I don’t like? There are many supports from many traditions. For instance, tonglen, ho’oponopno, metta, sincerely praying for the well-being of everyone including those our personality doesn’t like, certain lines of reflection, certain types of inquiry (The Work, Living Inquiries), and so on.

And yes, I know that the writers of the Gospels likely wanted to appeal to the outcasts in the Roman empire, so they may have wanted to emphasize Jesus embracing the outcasts for that reason as well. That doesn’t take away the deeper psychological and perhaps spiritual (depending on how we see it) meaning of the “love your enemy” quotes from the Gospel and this quote from Bonhoeffer.


If all is the divine, and Jesus (or Christ) is an especially clear and unclouded expression of the divine through and as a human form, then everyone is Jesus (or Christ). Quite literally, everyone – no matter who they are – is Jesus.

If Jesus (or Christ), directly or as a metaphor, is an expression of the divine recognizing itself more clearly through a human form and living from that recognition in a clear way, then Jesus (or Christ) is the potential in each of us. Everyone is Jesus or Christ a bit confused.


We can see Jesus (or Christ) as an expression of the divine recognizing itself more clearly through a human form, and living from that recognition in a relatively clear way. Whether we see it literally (Christ) or metaphorically, Jesus (or Christ) is the potential in each of us. Each one of us is a Jesus or Christ, just a bit confused.

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