Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Ordinary Time - Reinventing Jesus

I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough. (2 Corinthians 11:1-4)

In Genesis chapter one, God creates human beings, “. . . in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” And ever since, it seems, we humans have been re-creating God.

It’s been done with statues and idols, stars and planets, pantheons and mythologies. We even do it with Jesus, seeing him as the kinder and gentler version of that crazy, violent, Old Testament God that Jesus called “Father.” Jesus can be reduced down to the low-hurdle version of God, the one who took the heat from the wrathful heavenly Father because of our sins, and now stays God’s hand lest he smite us for our rottenness, destroy of because of our total depravity.

Of course, we need to say that this isn’t right. We’re told in Scripture that, in Jesus, the fullness of God dwells, that he is the Word of God made flesh, that he is the very image of the invisible God. If we really want to know what God is like, then just look at Jesus.

Unless we reinvent Jesus as well.

We do this all the time, you know. Someone has a private revelation and swears that Jesus has given new and secret instructions, and everyone gathers on a hilltop waiting to be whisked away to glory. Others decide that there isn’t enough good work going on in the nation and the world, and they characterize Jesus as the embodiment of their political preferences, wrapping him in a national flag. We decide that he’ll heal everyone of their diseases if they’ll just believe rightly, and we turn him into a capricious wizard. We dismiss the idea that he’ll heal anyone and we make him the vice president of quality control for the American Medical Association.

It’s difficult to reinvent a person you actually know. We can know all about Jesus and project any number of new personalities onto him. But knowing him—really knowing him, as a real person—doesn’t allow for such projections. When Jesus is limited to our interpretations of him through our texts of Scripture, he can become valued and yet abstract to us; he can be one to be imitated, but not necessarily one to know and to follow.

I marvel at how often our appropriate response to the summons of Jesus is simply the acceptance of an invitation.

“Come unto me . . .”

“Come, follow me.”

“Take, eat.”

I wonder, if in our constant struggle to know Jesus by crafting him into images of ourselves, we miss his invitation to come to him, to find rest, to learn new rhythms of living, and to dine with him at his table. We might be surprised at the others who are already gathered there, taking and eating, drinking and following, ones we would have never expected to be invited in the first place. Then we realize that it’s a wonder that even we received an invitation.

And in the midst of our surprise, we might really know Jesus.

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