Jesus is pretty famous. There are very few places on earth where you can go today where people have not at least heard of him. And this should be no surprise, because he’s a very intriguing character - an enigma who continues to start conversations all over the world even to this day. So many questions still surround him, his life, and his teaching. Was he born miraculously of a virgin, or did his mother sleep around during her engagement to Joseph? Were his miracles real, or were they carefully crafted illusions? Did he actually rise from the dead, or did he just swoon on the cross and recover later … or was the whole thing simply made up by his disciples?
And what do we do with the things he taught? On the one hand, he said many wonderful and broadly accepted teachings like, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and, “Judge not or you too will be judged,” and, “Blessed are the poor.” Yet he also said things like, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” and “Before Abraham was born, I am,” and “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” These are all far more troubling.
And so Jesus, for the last 2,000 years, has been inspiring people and challenging them, comforting them and making them very uncomfortable, and the many miracles of his life continue to hang around, demanding attention because of their dramatic nature, yet remaining ultimately un-provable, and, in the end, perhaps not even relevant to our lives today.
So how do people respond to this man of mystery, Jesus of Nazareth? I think people have, essentially, 4 responses to him.
Some people love him. They believe in his miracles, they aspire to his teaching, they trust him, and they try to follow him. These people generally call themselves Christians.
Some people hate him - though not many. Few people actively hate Jesus - he’s too complicated a person, with too many redeeming qualities. Even if you don’t like his grandiose claims, you’re still stuck with images of this man welcoming little children to himself, healing the sick, and dying for people he loved. But still, Jesus does have many massive and jarring statements, particularly about himself, that inevitably lead some to hate him.
People are more likely to ignore him, however. For some, the life and death and even possible resurrection of a religious leader 2,000 years ago on the other side of the world simply cannot be relevant to the practical concerns of modern life. For others, the many questions surrounding him leave too much unresolved, and it’s just too exhausting to dwell on him.
But I think by far the most common human approach to Jesus is to use him. And we do this by taking the full picture of Jesus that we have, and then we strip out the things we don’t like, we focus on the things we do like, we reject the things we don’t believe, we accept the things we do believe, and in the end we say, “THIS is Jesus.” Then we take our newly formed Jesus - the one we redesigned to fit our desires perfectly - and we use him to give us a spiritual justification for the things we are already doing, believing, and valuing. Essentially, we form Jesus in our own image.
You can see this everywhere.
Christians who always think they’re right have refashioned Jesus from the God they claim him to be into their own personal cheerleader. We can be sure of this because, in the end, no one is always right.
Politicians who invoke the name of Jesus for their own political platform are using Jesus to achieve their own political goals. Jesus would, of course, vote for them.
People who build their own personal spirituality, splicing together pieces of different religions and including Jesus in the mix … are using Jesus. They are taking the whole person and using only the parts of him that fulfill their spiritual pursuits.
People inclined towards social revolution but rejecting on principle the idea of any kind of divine authority will typically turn Jesus into something of a Che Guevara character.
And the list goes on and on. In fact, any time we pick and choose with Jesus, we will always choose what we like and are comfortable with, and we will cast out or ignore whatever challenges us. This is just human nature.
But what if we simply let Jesus be - with all the things that comfort us and challenge us, that inspire us and rebuke us? We can love him, or we can hate him, or we can decide that he is not relevant to us and ignore him … but at least we’re doing all of these things with the real him. At least we’re respecting him enough not to change him into whatever we want him to be.
To take someone who is a separate, sovereign entity with his own identity, beliefs and opinions, and to bend and twist that person until he is forced into a position of subservience - a position where he is made to worship us, and forced to fulfill our desires … what word describes this better than rape? I know this is a jarring word, but is there a better description for what is going on here?
Jesus is an enigma. He’s uncomfortable, and challenging, and confusing - this is what he’s really like. But let’s have the courage to face him honestly. Perhaps, after confronting him, we’ll discover that we love him. Perhaps we’ll find that his teachings make us hate him. Perhaps we’ll come to believe, in the end, that he’s just not relevant to our lives. But at least with all these responses, we will be responding to the real him - at least we will not have done him the dishonor of contorting him and forcing him to submit to our own desires.