There are a lot of Jesuses running around these days.
There is the Jesus who wants you to find a good parking spot at the mall. There is the Jesus invoked at music awards and the one raised like a flag to celebrate capitalism and affluence. There is the Jesus drawing lines about who is “in” and who is “out,” and there is the Jesus on both sides of the picket lines. There is the one in the slums and the one in suburbia and the one in Africa and the one in America and the one in Calgary. There is the Jesus who told Mother Teresa to touch the lepers and love with her hands, the one who led the bravest and kindest of men and women all the way to the end, and then there is the Jesus who supposedly inspired manifestos of hate, crusades, murder, and wars. And then there is the Jesus who likes everything you like and hates everything (or everyone) you hate and is quite pleased with everything about you. (I like that Jesus best sometimes.) (Out of Sorts, p.28-29)
The identity of Jesus is at the heart of Bessey’s 2nd chapter. And it’s really at the heart of what it means to be Christian.
Who is Jesus?
It seems like such an easy question if you’ve attended Sunday school for any amount of time. Isn’t there an obvious answer? Yet what Sarah aptly addresss is that we have a human tendency to create Jesus and God in our own image. This isn’t always a conscious choice, either. Rather, it’s simply part of being a human. We tend to engage the Divine on our own terms with our own suppositions. Jesus has been coopted to fit agendas and to justify all kinds of causes or crusades.
No one approaches God from a purely objective standpoint. We are a mishmash of our family and history and environment and education. In chapter 2, Bessey walks us through her own relationship with Jesus and the way it has changed throughout the years. In doing so she illustrates how such a seemingly elementary question can actually be incredibly complex.
And how the answer can change everything.
Honestly, there is much to the Christian experience that either baffles or bothers me. Even as a minister, I have some serious doubts about the modern day church. There are times when I sit back, look at the way we have institutionalized this whole thing and wonder if we’ve gotten seriously off track. Sometimes we can be a pale facsimile of the beautiful body of Christ we are meant to be.
Plus there are large portions of Scripture I either don’t understand or have some genuine problems with. I mean, have you read the Old Testament? There’s quite a lot of primitive rules and gender exclusion and genocide and vengeful violence. I’m still trying to process and understand some of those narratives.
These kinds of problems have caused many to dismiss Christianity, the Bible and even Jesus as archaic and irrelevant. Many have tossed the whole thing aside due to this dissonance.
Sarah describes her own journey away from the church for a time. But she also tells us what drew her back in — reading the Gospels and looking at Jesus.
Jesus was not what I expected. Now what I remembered. I had expected a comfortable wise man, someone saying nice things about being nice and kind to people. I think I expected a version of Jesus I had tricked out of my memory: comfortable, safe. Clearly I’d blurred the Jesus of my childhood with the real one of the Gospels
Because this Jesus, the one here in the pages of my Bible, the one who spoke in the red letters, the one I was yearning to know in my heart of hearts and walk beside every day — the Jesus was so different from all those other Jesuses. He wasn’t in a tidy box. He wasn’t the property of any one religion or denomination or belief system or a financial system or lifestyle. He was bigger, wilder, and more wonderful than all of that. (Out of Sorts, p.31)
The more she read about Jesus, the more captivated with him she became. And the more it began to change the way she viewed everything else.
Jesus is the center of our faith,
the Messiah who saved in a way no one expected,
the clearest picture of God we can see,
the exemplar of love and kindness and compassion and mercy,
the Cosmic Christ who holds the universe together,
and the one who continues to transcend even our own expectations.
Jesus changes everything.
Because everything I don’t understand can be filtered through him.
I still have doubts about the church. We are flawed humans attempting to represent the Divine. And we mess it up in some pretty astonishing ways. But I see the way Jesus dealt with people. The way he bore with their missteps and misunderstandings. The way he kept calling them to a better viewpoint, a greater path. And it compels me to keep going with this messy thing we call church.
I still don’t understand all of those weird passages, especially those OT ones. But I now read those through the eyes of Jesus, searching for the God represented in the man who touched the lepers and talked with outsiders and ate with sinners. And little by little I think I’m getting a better picture of this grand story God is still writing in us.
Who is Jesus? What a great question.
Because the answer changes everything.