It is time to have a little chat about Jesus.
More specifically, we need to address the divergent understandings and portrayals of Jesus in the United States.
From what I am seeing and hearing, these two Jesuses are worlds apart. So, to distinguish the two, I’ll refer to the biblical one as Jesus and the other depiction as jesus (lowercase “j”) in the following analysis.
It seems to me that the jesus followed by some Christians is angry, aggressive, pushy and demanding. He is the kind who would storm the Capitol and have no problem carrying a Christian flag during that insurrection.
This jesus doesn’t like folks who are different: in color, language, custom or lifestyle. In fact, as those following this jesus eagerly point out (often with more glee than grief), the god of this jesus is going to send those different from them straight to hell.
Obviously, this jesus condones violence if it is used to a noble end which these Christians seem more than willing to define and rationalize. And he is powerfully influenced by invitations to power and prestige, finding himself easily comfortable and seduced by notoriety, riches and fame.
This jesus struts before the cameras of this world, careful to wear suits suitable to one’s station. In fact, and ironically, this jesus is a rigid teetotaler but easily intoxicated by praise and attention.
The jesus espoused by these Christians is angry with seemingly every minority group because they are polluting our nation, incurring god’s wrath and dooming America, which has a mystical, magical, unwritten covenant with this god.
This jesus does not have time for the poor, homeless, sick, tormented, marginalized or those who came to America without passport or permission.
He cares more about looking right than doing right, more about showing up on Sunday than showing up in the midst of hurt and pain with empathy and compassion.
This jesus really does not seem to have much compassion and love. And frankly, he seems (at least based on the words and actions of Christians who follow this jesus) to be ready to send everyone to hell who disagrees with them.
Put simply: that’s not the Jesus I read about in the Bible. In fact, I have spent a lifetime learning from Jesus about Jesus. For that reason, I have to say, my Jesus is not the jesus espoused by some Americanized Christians.
Of course, I don’t own Jesus. He is not “mine” in the sense of ownership. He is “mine” only in the sense of relationship.
When I wear my purple, long-sleeved, starched shirt, I tell clients it reminds me of Jesus. Purple has been historically a royal color, and when I wear purple, I remind myself I am a child of God – the one revealed by the Jesus of the Bible.
My Jesus is in the business of finding the lost with the full knowledge that lost people act lost. He does not seem to care. For that reason, Jesus is willing to go where they are, entering their pain, their brokenness, their struggle and their anguish.
My Jesus doesn’t wear a suit., doesn’t own a tie and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty.
In fact, I suspect his first disciples were struck by how calloused his hands were because he worked with them regularly. His hands have always been the hands outstretched and open, touching, healing and praying for those in need.
My Jesus is not angry with America, but he is grieved over the waywardness of the church in America.
Once again, his people have wandered off into idolatry in exchange for a seat at the government table, the opportunity to be a player in the halls of government, supporting laws they themselves will not obey.
My Jesus has not lost his love for the poor or the marginalized. He has not lost his love for the stranger or the person whose choices are causing them to perish.
My Jesus has never, ever regretted dying for all, embracing all who would believe – whether they were in a jail or prison cell, living under a bridge or a supersized home with a nice lawn.
My Jesus loves immigrants because, when he was a child, he was an immigrant. In fact, it was that flight to Egypt that kept Jesus safe. It seems the Christians who follow jesus have lost sight of the fact that Jesus was an immigrant, a refugee, just like the immigrants who come to the U.S. for safety and hope.
My Jesus sees all, acknowledges all, has grace and compassion for all, welcomes all and continually invites all to sit at his table and be his disciples.
Harry Emerson Fosdick, the longtime pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, once preached a message entitled, “The Peril of Worshiping Jesus.”
I did not agree with Fosdick’s overall message, but circling back all these years later, I will say, there is a peril in worshiping this jesus.
Why? Because this jesus is not the biblical Jesus!