Thursday, June 12, 2014

Reconsidering Jesus

In today's gospel reading, Jesus asks his disciples who people think that he is, and they respond with some of the suggestions that are floating around. Then Jesus asks a much more critical question. "But who do you say that I am?"If you grew up in the church, you likely know that Peter gave the "correct" answer. "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."(Some Bible translations will have "Christ" rather than "Messiah," but Christ is simply a Greek version of the Hebrew word Messiah.)

Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. Many church members could come up with this answer if asked the question Jesus poses to his disciples. But that is not to say these people are talking about the same Jesus. There are a lot of competing and incompatible Jesuses running around. One Jesus hates gays and lesbians but another loves and accepts them. One Jesus is a militant warrior and another is an avowed pacifist. One Jesus wants you to be rich and another calls you to give away your possessions to the poor.

Sometimes we more liberal Christians get so troubled at some of the more ridiculous pictures of Jesus that our response is barely to picture Jesus as all. A United Church of Christ pastor once told me this joke about his denomination. "What does UCC stand for?" The answer/punchline: "Unitarians Considering Christ." I've met many Presbyterians for  whom this is an accurate description. They're looking for a picture of Jesus they can live with. I think a lot of Christians would do well to do a little considering, or perhaps reconsidering, their picture of Christ. But that is different from simply painting a picture to suit us.

If conservatives sometimes create a Jesus who looks more like a patriotic Republican than the Jesus depicted in the Bible, liberals sometimes create a Jesus so benign and bland I can't imagine why anyone would want to follow him. In trying to remove some of the offensive ways in which Jesus has been co-opted into supporting America, gun rights, and free market economies, they create a Jesus with little or no offense at all. He's just a nice guy who loves everybody and does nice things for them. Trouble is, the biblical Jesus was offensive. At least he was to lots of people, particularly those with power, who ran religious institutions, who imagined they were holier than others, and who were motivated by money.

If you take some time to consider and reconsider Jesus, who do you say that he is? The answer is probably less about what words we use to describe him and more the sort of faith life we live as we seek to follow him. What picture of Jesus do people see when they look at you or me?

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