Vail Daily column: One-dimensional Jesus makes him too small
A one-dimensional Jesus makes him too small. On-lookers shove him into mental niches that constrict his identity as friend, inspirer, storyteller and link between God and humankind.
Jesus’ core shines like a kaleidoscope of colors. Some mistakenly focus on a single hue, treat it as Jesus’ primary color and claim recognition of his identity. Such color-blind faith, however, blocks seeing Jesus multi-dimensionally.
How do some admirers blunder by jamming him into their mental comfort zones? Some magnify their personalities and project them on Jesus. They reject actor Alan Alda’s advice: “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” Still, we stick with comfortable pictures of Jesus, fitting him into mental worn shoes, scuffed when Jesus is squeezed into irregular, one-dimensional shapes.
Some folks turn Jesus into a good news peddler, a super salesman. They mention him in the same breath as entrepreneurs who pitch a start-up business to Wall Street executives and rake in cash. Jesus is regarded as a master motivator.
That’s how ad-man Bruce Barton pictured Jesus during the Roaring 20s. In 1925, his block-buster book “A Man Nobody Knows” flew off shelves. Readers reduced Jesus to a huckster. Under the guise of a humble carpenter, he rocked Bethlehem’s business brokers by raising a cadre of President-elect Donald Trump look-alikes. “Jesus picked up 12 men from the bottom ranks of business,” exclaimed Barton, “and forged them into an organization that conquered the world.”
Christian romance novels shrink Jesus’ image, too. A bachelor, he’s polite, genuine and tough enough to survive wilderness adventures. Jesus is your heart’s knockout. Worshipers sing in hushed tones about a dreamy personal relationship with Jesus. He fills lonely voids by acting like a heartthrob to the lovelorn.
Still others make Jesus too small by limiting him to the role of a social justice crusader. He rocks the religious boat, foments rebellion and helps peasants secure dignity by starting revolutions against reigning tyrants.
Trouble is, Rome’s entrenched power didn’t decline during Jesus’ three-year public ministry.
Many focus on Jesus as a counselor who rescued disciples from a furious world through contemplation. In this narrow perspective, Jesus rearranges inner emotions and lowers blood pressure. He sounds like Oprah who peps us up and calms us down.
Does this contemplative niche make room for Jesus who got into scrapes when listeners screamed at him, tried to heave him over precipices and caused violent confrontation that made Jesus retreat into the wilderness?
So, what are the layers of Jesus’ identity if one-dimensional cultural slants of him lack depth, balance and accuracy?
Note his name. Biblical names functioned as more than identity tags because they revealed a person’s multi-dimensional character. After an angel visited father Joseph, he revealed to this first-time dad that mother Mary “… will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew1:21).
“Jesus” is equivalent to the Old Testament name “Joshua,” meaning “God is our salvation” or “God saves us.” Today’s derivatives are “James” and John,” along with the British diminutive “Jack.”
Jesus defies intellectual niches. Like us, his depth is more like the plot of a Russian novel than a comic book’s squib. Whatever divine means, he encompasses it. Whatever it takes to become fully human, he wrote that ticket. He’s the bridge between God and humankind. He covers for our deficiencies. Jesus somehow takes our core defects and forgives, making sure God doesn’t hold grudges against us.
Jesus embraced a healthy lifestyle of blending curiosity to what’s new with reverence toward what’s worth keeping. He transformed broken lives. Then people started over and reached their ‘better angels,” said Abraham Lincoln. Jesus saved us from our worst selves so that God sees what’s best in us.
Roman Catholic New York Times columnist Ross Douthat depicts Jesus as a walking contradiction, an agent of paradox. Could he also be thick and thin-skinned at the same time because he’s multi-dimensional, like colors of the rainbow?
“He makes wild claims about his own relationship to God, and perhaps his own divinity,” writes Douthat, “without displaying any of the usual signs of megalomania or madness. He can be equalitarian and hierarchical, gentle and impatient, extraordinarily charitable and extraordinarily judgmental. He sets impossible standards and then forgives the worst of sinners. He blesses the peacemakers and then promises that he’s brought not peace but a sword. He’s superhuman one moment; the next he’s weeping” (Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, p. 153, 2012).
On this Christmas Day, take strands of Jesus’ identity and weave them into generosity for others. Put poetry into practice that peals the bells of good news: “God is not dead; nor doth He sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on Earth.”
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.