Slimming Down Jesus

Most people put Jesus on a pretty strict diet, the kind of diet that makes the meals on The Biggest Loser look like an all you can eat buffet. It’s a mostly unconscious process, and pretty understandable given that most people who identify with Jesus on a spiritual or religious level want to be like Jesus. Since it’s pretty hard work, and a life-long process, to grow into becoming like Jesus, it’s much easier to change Jesus to become more like us. All of that laying down your life for your friends stuff can become fairly unpleasant, so we prefer to focus on Jesus being concerned with that concerns us while putting Jesus on a pretty strict diet that eliminates those things that don’t concern us.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have the same tendencies. I am a contemplative with a passion for social justice, so I tend to resonate with those parts of the Jesus experience. I also self-identify as a catholic, though not a Roman Catholic, and so I find great spiritual depth in the monastic experience, the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and much of catholic theology. That means that while I highly value and deeply love the scriptures, I also find great value and insight in the spiritual experiences of people throughout the last two thousand odd years and consider them to be the product of God’s on-going revelation. I understand that, prior to the sixteenth century there were only two Christian Churches, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox, and prior to the eleventh Century there was only one Church, what we today call the Roman Catholic Church. I understand that Christianity did not begin at the Protestant Reformation.

I am reading Obery Hendricks’ book The Politics of Jesus and finding it to be quite good. As I am reading, though, it occurs to me that it would be a mistake to treat any such book as a comprehensive study of Jesus. I am not implying that there is anything wrong with Obery Hendricks’ perspective, nor do I believe the book comprises his entire personal understanding of Jesus. I really don’t think it’s possible to undertake such a task in a single book. What I am saying is that for as important as Jesus’ overtly political work might be to us it would be a mistake to put Jesus on a contemplative, spiritual, praying, interpersonal encounter diet and reduce him to only a political figure. That means that when we read books or listen to talks that focus on one aspect of Jesus’ life it isn’t appropriate to then assume that one aspect is the whole story of Jesus. The primary reason such practices aren’t appropriate is that they not only reduce Jesus to something less than he was, they also reduce us to less than we might be.

Anyone who has ever watched children play kickball on a playground without a teacher serving as umpire knows that there’s something about human nature that wants to change the rules of the game so that we can win while expending the least amount of energy possible. On the playground it leads to pushing and shoving. In the spiritual life it leads to self-deception and lengthy detours. It’s no surprise that the ego fights against the spiritual journey once we understand that the ego wants to remain in control of our lives. Admitting that we’re not quite there yet, that we are still growing into the fullness of the people we were meant to be, and that we aren’t Jesus yet also says that we recognize the need for transformation and growth still exists within us and so offends the ego.

As we grow into broader understandings of Jesus we also grow into a perspective that allows us to understand the perspectives of other people who, like us, are still on the path to a full appreciation of the true diversity of Jesus’ life, mission, and ministry. We can be free to focus on what resonates within us – perhaps, working to change the structures that keep people impoverished – while recognizing that those who do other work – perhaps, visiting the elderly and lonely – are also doing Jesus’ work. We might even come to the place where we stop worrying at all about the work of others, and devote that wasted energy to the things and people who are important to us!

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