In my sixty-three years of ministry, I have encountered dozens of different Jesuses. In my own life, the Sunday School Jesus was white with well-coiffed brown hair and a brilliant white flowing gown, looking like he just got off the boat from Sweden. My young adult Jesus appeared human but was really God. Seminary’s Jesus was fully human, fully God. Today, he is a Middle Eastern Jew who has given me great tools to live life to the fullest every day. He is my Christ.
Here’s my question: Why is Jesus so hard to follow? Here are some ideas.
- The four Gospels and each institutional church has its own brand of Jesus. Unfortunately, there is no autobiography of Jesus, which then allows one’s imagination to design him. Which Jesus am I to follow?
- When Jesus became institutionalized by Constantine in the fourth century, Jesus had to conform to the standards of the institution. Then Jesus became a theology, a belief, a doctrine that molded him into the institution and its narrow way of thinking. Which institution’s idea of Jesus am I to follow? (None, I hope.)
- Jesus was Jewish his whole life. He was born a Jew, was a faithful follower of Judaism, and died a Jew. When the followers of Jesus were expelled from Judaism, most Jews stayed with their faith. Jesus then became a Christian gentile, and his Jewish roots were suppressed. Am I to follow the Jewish Jesus or the Christian one?
- The concept of God plays a role here. Jesus is most often modeled after our concept of God. If your God is Hispanic, I suspect your Jesus will be Hispanic. This can get messy, resulting in millions of different Gods and Jesuses. Should I follow the White Jesus, the Black one, the Asian image, or the real Jesus, the Jewish one?
- All denominations of Christianity are into control in varying degrees. My own Episcopal church allows my thinking to go only so far, and then my thinker has to stop or I could be defrocked. Suppose I don’t like the church’s version of Jesus? I have a choice: follow the Episcopal Jesus or leave. If I leave, there goes my paycheck.
- All institutions become politicized, and power rules. The power in my Episcopal church is not going to tolerate my Creation God and a no-God Jesus. They will continue to believe in and pray to NoOneUpThere and worship the son of NoOne. I don’t want to follow NoOne’s son.
- The biggest reason I have as to why it is so hard to follow Jesus is that my guy demands unconditional love for every human being who exists, total forgiveness of self and others, and a life of caring for “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40). This negates all my prejudices and biases, kills my underlying need for revenge, and demands that I keep on giving and giving and giving. This is hard—very hard. But I can say this: my life has been extremely rich and fulfilling, thanks to the Jewish Jesus, my Christ.
Is your Jesus hard to follow?
Peace Love Joy Hope
Photo courtesy of Bernard Spragg. NZ (public domain)