As we gather in the shadow of Easter, we have to admit that the image and message of Jesus has morphed into something that many of us do not recognize. We have to admit that we’ve heard of at least two different Jesus’.
Jesus A: Will the real Jesus please stand up? When I hear the story of the recovering addicts and survivors at St. Andrew Church, I see a powerful Jesus that is still reaching out to the same people that He reached to in the Bible. When I see the young people finding images that represent the words of our faith and finding a multicultural expression, I see faith growing. As I listen to the testimonies and experiences of people who have overcome medical and financial crisis, I hear the voice of Jesus. When I hear the stories of the founders of St. Andrew who suffered the indignity of racism and the harm of being physically attacked and socially excluded, yet decidedly stay engaged in a multi-racial congregation based upon healing, truth telling and loving I encounter Jesus. When I attend funeral services full of the pain of remembering a life well lived and yet hear the family proclaim, “Jesus is the resurrection” – I see why Jesus is still relevant. When I talk with people who are struggling with questions of both doubt and faith, I hear the sound of Jesus who is still speaking.
Under this Jesus, the cross is a universal plea for mercy and justice. In the Garden of Gethsemane is a Jesus who sees the cross– its cruelty, injustice, and waste– as a terrifying representation of humanity’s worse self.
Jesus B: This Jesus is identified with a culture of toxic masculinity, cultural arrogance, and an angry, controlling sect of self-aggrandizing worshippers. This is not the Jesus I and many of you know.
These images are not new. The church that has grown up around the life-giving story and experience of Jesus have been responsible for some of history’s worse historical harms. The Inquisition, the Crusades, colonization, white supremacy, sexism and exclusionary practices of all kinds were all done in service to a Jesus whose chief gift to his adherents was understood to be the justification for those who crave power, control and dominance over other people.
Under this Jesus, Jesus B, on a personal level Jesus is reduced to a lamb that was slaughter whose only function is to give forgiveness to those who believe that he is the Son of God–forgiveness without the accountability to growth, forgiveness and a noxious sense of superiority based upon a crowd-sourced interpretation of scripture, a set of accepted practices of one particular community. It encourages conformity over creativity, acquiescence over questioning, and complacency over innovation. Jesus B offered redemption with the price tag of guilt and a reformation into the prefabricated images of a warrior. Jesus’ death on the cross becomes the focal point of celebration. The empty tomb has become the afterthought of selective inspiration – only relevant to the true followers of Jesus. This is the Jesus spoken of during large political rallies and prayed to in the Capitol when the insurrectionists bowed their heads in the Senate Chamber.
Jesus B has been increasing rejected by an emerging generation. Under this Jesus, the cross is misunderstood as a celebrated and needful act that was inevitable for salvation. This emerging generation has seized upon other means of healing without the toxic elements of arrogance and without the segregation from people whom they have known and loved their whole life. They reject Jesus B. Oddly enough, the very people who are responsible for proselytizing Jesus B are those who are losing influence and impact. However, they see the rejection of Jesus B as affirmation of their fears.
The good news is the scriptures about Jesus are a story and an experience that points to the character and trustworthiness of God. In fact, and this could sound blasphemous, our lives are also a message of Jesus. The way we live–speak, worship, work, play– represent the story of Jesus and represent who Jesus is in our shared world. If Jesus has become someone whom we do not recognize it is because we have stop living out loud our faith. Note, I did not say shouting out loud or arguing. Jesus remains relevant because he did not get trapped in dogma, doctrine, theological reflection, cultural complacency, or social class–what can become the tombs of our witness or faith.
Hope is the real work of salvation, not punishment. The cross is still a scandal and an act of unholy terror that should warn us about sin – our capacity to be inhuman, cruel and unfair to one another. Even the “Son of God” did not escape this consequence of humanity. But Jesus did not get stuck in the cycle of revenge; He offers us a way out. The miracle message is that life comes from forgiveness and reconnection to one another by a new spirit of the holiness and wholeness that comes to help us and cause us to grow beyond the cycle of what we have created and deserve.
Let us live out the resurrection of Jesus every day and proclaim – He’s alive!