The first Bible that I received as a gift, and still have in my library, was from my parents on Christmas Day, 1967. It was “The Children’s Bible,” one that I continue to treasure with my late mother’s inscription. Here, was where my first visual images of Jesus from that children’s picture bible was that of a blonde haired, blue eyed Savior. And, quite naturally that took hold in my young consciousness. Of course, as a first century Jew and Aramean, his resemblance would have been that of a brown skinned, dark eyed, brown haired person of color. And, I find it deeply troubling that the former Jesus, the one created in the image of white America, continues to be upheld in 21st century America and in so many churches.
Why I find it so disturbing is not so much in the false continuance of this European looking Jesus, although that’s troubling, but rather in the ongoing false narrative of what exactly Christ taught, lived, and that for which He died. You see, Jesus was and is in fact the antithesis of what so much of American culture and religion have neatly packaged him up to be; the nice and comfortable Christ. Jesus was radical in his teachings, whom he loved, whom he forgave and accepted, and with whom he sat at table and broke bread.
Saint Paul wrote in his Letter to the Thessalonians: “Let no one deceive you in any way…” That was written within the first century of the newly forming Christian Church, where we already see the grave concerns that Christ’s teachings would most certainly come up against attempts of distortion and adaptations to the desires of culture and those in authority.
This year, more than others, I was deeply moved on All Saints’ Sunday when I stood up to read the words of Jesus from the 6th chapter of the Gospel of Luke. So much so, that my eyes teared up. Jesus is gathered with his disciples, when he suddenly looks them in the eyes and begins speaking: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh…But woe to you who are rich…Woe to you who are full now…Woe to you who are laughing now…” What is it that Jesus is getting at in these powerful words to his disciples?
Jesus is not so much putting down the rich, those with full bellies, or those who have laughter, but rather he is attacking their often casual and comfortable indifference to those who are not those things and as such suffer. Christ was addressing this great sin of first century Palestine, and one that would be both ongoing and universal. Today, this is sadly so very prevalent amongst those in office in our nation’s capital, within our institutions, and the populace; and, I believe that is why this gospel brought those unanticipated tears.
Jesus ends that talk to his disciples with these words: “But I say to you that listen, Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Are we doing that as individuals, as a Church, and as the nation of America? This week we honor all of our veterans who served and fought for our country; what kind of nation were they risking their lives for and dedicating their service? You see, ifwe want to claim Jesus as individuals and as a nation, then it needs to be the Jesus of Holy Scripture, and not the one that we have conveniently created in some other image.
Jesus was never a single-issue Savior, except perhaps for his call to die on the cross for the sins of the world and the salvation of our souls. In fact, most of the single issues that many Christians claim to be that of Christ’s are never even mentioned by him in the gospels. Rather, what Jesus consistently lived and taught was that all are the beloved of God, and that when we claim him as Lord we do not get to pick and choose where we accept and apply his teachings. By Jesus’ standards we are called to serve and love all; especially, if we are in a position of means to do so by our wealth, full bellies, and happy lives. When Jesus says that we should do to others as we would have them do to us, he is not commenting that this would be nice, but rather stating that this is required when we claim Him to be ours.
If you claim Christianity and you are not deeply troubled by the present state of our nation, well you should be. Imagine Jesus being nice and comfortable with the kind of language, discourse, and behavior that we see and hear everyday on our national news. Imagine Jesus being okay with children being detained and separated from their parents at the border. Imagine what Jesus would have to say about the kind of greed that keeps our citizens from affordable healthcare, prescription drugs, food and housing. Finally, if you see the above as political rather than issues of faith, perhaps you should revisit which Jesus you claim and follow. May we together claim the Jesus of the gospels…