Let me start this post by saying that I am one of those individuals who laughs harder at Will Ferrell movies than I probably should. I’m aware that some of you might judge me for that but I promise it has a point today. In his 2006 movie, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, there is a particular scene that has given me plenty of laughs. In this scene, Ricky is eating dinner with his opportunistic wife, his outrageously disrespectful sons, his helpless father-in-law, and his best friend, Cal Naughton, Jr. Ricky is preparing to say the grace over the food and he starts praying to Baby Jesus. Well this starts a whole discussion on who Jesus is and what Jesus looks like. Ricky’s “dear eight pound, six ounce newborn infant Jesus” line had me in stitches for awhile and I still might quote it from time to time (just being honest). Anyway, Ricky insists on referring to Jesus as a baby, much to his father-in-law’s chagrin and protest that Jesus is a man. Cal then adds in his thoughts on what his Jesus looks like – “…in a tuxedo shirt because it says I want to be formal but I’m here to party.”
This is not the complete exchange as it happened in the movie but I’ve given you enough to make the point I want to make. I’ve had many laughs from this scene but this week, I’ve remembered it for different reasons. My original idea was to write a post this week on the significance of Easter to me, even in the midst the growing questions around my belief system and what that system compels me to value and do. But in light of the Duke Div noose incident, the “Religious Freedom” law in Indiana, and the ever-growing number of black lives being taken unjustly at the hands of police, I can’t help but have my thoughts on Resurrection Sunday be focused in some way on the people who Jesus cared about in a way that no one else did – the least of these.
I think one of the most powerful things about Jesus is that He can be to us personally whatever we need Him to be. His ability to fill voids in our lives is unparalleled and even through the ups and downs of my spiritual journey, I have managed to hold tightly to Jesus and what He has promised to be. That is the power of a Savior who knows no boundaries. But in these days and times, that is also the danger of a Savior who knows no boundaries. Just like Ricky and Cal, those who have professed the Christian faith (and even some who have not) have our personal ideas of who Jesus is, though I’m sure many of us will be satisfied to just say that we love “the Jesus of the Bible”. But are we sure? For many of us, the Jesus that we cling to becomes more and more like ourselves, taking on our own little eccentricities, prejudices, and perceptions. Instead of us conforming to His likeness, He somehow conforms to ours and becomes limited in His ability to love and give grace. We’ve made Jesus into ideologies, we’ve made him the face of political parties, we’ve used Him to champion causes that Jesus probably would not have championed. I get it. It’s great to have a Jesus that’s on your side, who sees things the way you see them, and puts his stamp of approval on your actions as arguably the greatest man in history. How freeing! Or…how damaging.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, He commissioned twelve men to be His voice, hands, and feet. Jesus knew this wouldn’t look perfect but I suspect that Jesus knew that after all the time these men had spent with Him, they would have a pretty good idea of how things should be carried out. So He entrusted them to do the work. What these guys have as an advantage over us is that they personally walked with Jesus and talked to Him and had the pleasure of hearing first hand how He felt about any number of things. They witnessed His indignation in the temple, they saw His compassion for the marginalized, they scoffed at His affinity for hanging with the undesirables. They had the chance to see all of that first hand so their view of Jesus did not have the opportunity to be obstructed by westernized views and misinterpretations of the canonized Holy Bible. They knew who He was, they touched Him, they traveled with Him, and they understood (as much as they could) His heart.
As Christians worldwide gear up to celebrate the death and resurrection of this Jesus, I can’t help but to think of who Jesus is and what He stood for. The Jesus who had no problem sitting with and fellowshipping with the marginalized, the Jesus who probably would have flipped tables at people turning Him into a gun-toting, Bible-wielding Republican who loves fetuses but tells children to bring themselves up by their own bootstraps, the Jesus who sacrificially laid His life on the line for ALL of us (yes, even us self-righteous ones) and took no second thought of what it would cost Him. This is the Jesus that I’m told I should emulate…but why don’t I see more of Him in me? In you, Christian?
This Easter season, as we gather in churches to hear the 14769746838 version of the same 7 Last Words messages, as we flock stores to get our freshest pastels and our whitest Easter whites, as we pack churches around this country because coming to Church on this day salves our consciences and makes us feel good about our versions of Jesus, I would hope that we take the time to evaluate who Jesus really is. He is not, nor does He desire to be, some idea and some weapon to use against people who are not like you. He is not some neat and tidy figure that can be fully comprehended. Shrek said that people are like onions and onions have layers. Jesus probably has the most layers of all.
The beauty of Jesus is the nuances of His nature. Fully God and fully man, He connects with us in ways no one else can and is able to intervene in ways that no one else can. That is why the richest of the rich can know and love Him and the poorest of the poor can know and love Him. But when my version of Jesus turns into a tool for oppression, it’s easy to see that’s not Jesus but it’s me. Luke 4:18 (NASB) says (and this is Jesus speaking here), “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed.” Maybe Jesus isn’t the only thing we need to see crucified this Good Friday. Maybe all the unholy ways we’ve boxed Jesus into deified versions of ourselves should die too.
Jesus is what keeps me connected to the Church and I’m grateful that the more I learn about Him, the more I’m able to discern who He really is. I’m aware that He may look different to me than He does to the next person, but I’m glad to see with clear vision that the ways He came to liberate and love me He came to provide that to the next person with no reservations.
Happy “Easter” season…oh and, “shake and bake”!