Was Jesus the Son of God? In a word, yes. But any number of other famous men in history and mythology were given, or took, this title and so, according to St. Paul, are “as many as are led by the Spirit of God” (Romans 8:14). As one of my theological mentors said when I asked him this very question, “It’s the wrong question.”
Clearly, the title, Son of God, is anything but unique, so what was it about Jesus that made him special? Ah, but “he was born of a virgin,” some might say. Yet, scholars have found at least 32 people mentioned in ancient texts who were said to have had mothers who were virgins impregnated by a god, including Horus in Egypt, Krishna in India and Buddha. In fact, not only were they claimed to have been born of virgins, but their lives have an amazing number of similarities with the life of Jesus. When one finishes reading about the others, it seems Jesus was not very unique at all.
The title Jesus seems to use for himself (or at least is put on his lips by the gospel writers), the ‘Son of Man, is a bit unusual, but it is not altogether clear what is meant by it. It appears elsewhere in Scripture and, depending on the context, can mean a figure who comes from God at the ‘end-time,’ a saint, one who represents the righteous, or any man, as distinct from a heavenly being. In some instances where used by Jesus, it can be understood as part of the human psyche that guides one into wholeness. Alas, the title ‘Son of Man’ leaves us none the wiser.
There are some things of which we can be reasonably sure: he was a teacher, a sage and a preacher, and he lived what he taught and preached. He made a sufficient impression that people followed him, although this was not unique in his time, either. And let’s face it; many, many people have died to save others.
As I write this, it comes to me that Jesus is special because people recognised in him the characteristics of life in the Realm of God, about which he proclaimed was present and available to all who would pick up their crosses and follow his way. Enough people have recognised the truth in his teaching to attempt to do just that. In him they saw reflected their best selves, a model of the wholeness that could be theirs. Jesus is probably is not unique, for there are no doubt others who have discovered the same truth in their own cultures, and who modelled for others what it was to be truely human, but Jesus is the one whom we have found and followed, and that, in itself, is special enough.