When I was growing up, I thought that Jesus looked like Jeffrey Hunter, who portrayed him in The King of Kings. I thought Jesus was kind and patient and never ill-tempered. Then I actually read the Gospels. The picture I got from this reading gave me a picture of Jesus that was different.
The Jesus of the Gospels was, I saw, all the things I thought. However, the Jesus of the Gospels was also fully capable of being short-tempered, even aggressive. My son Andrew raised this point once when he asked me “Dad, when Jesus calls those church officials whitened sepulchers, is that kind of like calling them ‘sons of bitches'”? (Granted, Andy got SOB from somewhere other than the Gospels. Can’t imagine where!). I had to admit that Andy had a point.
I’ve talked to many people who have judged themselves “un-Christlike” when they speak up for themselves or allow the expression of anger. Somehow many of us developed an image of Christ as some sort of passive milquetoast. Easy to push around. A carpet others walked on. Not so! He spoke up, confronted, criticized, and clearly got angry. He also took care of himself, often inviting himself over for dinner when he arrived in a village.
I’ve come to understand that, just as I learned to find the God of my understanding, I also need to find the Jesus of my understanding. That Jesus may not be the Jesus of my youth or even the Jesus of Catholicism but he is becoming a Jesus to whom I can relate. The Jesus of my understanding is tough, assertive, at times irritable, and quite a political agitator.
It has helped me to see Jesus as a rebel, a dissident not afraid to criticize the religious powers of his time for their rejection of the basic Judaic call of compassion and their pushing of rules and regulations. That Jesus is captured for me in this great Jackson Brown piece:
I also find the Jesus of the film Gospel According to St. Matthew to be one I can relate to. (Sorry I don’t have a translation but you can guess what he is saying!) This is a Jesus who is aggressive, knocking someone down in the midst of his tantrum.
I like this Jesus better than Jeffrey Hunter.
Jewish scholars talk about how each of us has within us our own Torah, waiting to be manifest in the world. For those of us who claim to be Christian, perhaps we should borrow from this powerful notion and find the Jesus Within, making him our own, not simply accepting someone else’s Jesus because they work for a church!
Reflection: If Jesus is a meaningful figure to you, what is your image of him. If he is not meaningful, select a figure who is and explore your image of that figure and whether and how you make it your own