By John Pierce
My parents, other relatives, neighbors, school teachers and church leaders taught me to value good manners. I still do (except when driving).
I try to speak kindly to others, to be gracious in social settings and to be mindful enough to hold the door for the next person. Manners just matter to me. And I don’t like being in social settings where ill-mannered people talk loudly on their cell phones or smoke in non-smoking areas or act like their convenience is more important than the rules everyone else follows.
So it’s not surprising that I grew up with an image of a well-mannered, polite Jesus. Our Jesus was sweet.
“Sweetest name I know.” “‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus.”
Jesus’ hard rhetoric toward the religiously pious didn’t get a lot of our attention. That would hit too close to home.
But the story of Jesus overturning the tables of the temple merchants was popular. It was interpreted as Jesus giving us permission for an occasional angry outburst if directed toward “sin.” It’s that moment in the Gospel story when Jesus shifts characters from Mr. Rogers to John Wayne — before returning to his sweater and sneakers.
Today, some church leaders play up the Cowboy Jesus image in an effort to get men roped into church. Such macho Christianity usually involves weight-lifting exhibitions, testimonies by athletes who credit Jesus with their on-field successes (in between “you-knows”), and wild game dinners.
On the other end, Jesus gets portrayed as meek, mild and accepting of all beliefs and behavior. He’s the quiet philosophical Jesus. But I realized a long time ago that a soft-spoken philosopher who wanders the countryside while telling warm-hearted stories doesn’t end up on cross.
No wonder Jesus was compelled to ask even those closest to him: “But who do you say that I am?” Apparently, the confusion has been going on for a long time.
The Lenten season is designed for introspection. One good place to reflect is on the broader presentation of Jesus given by those who recorded his life and teachings.
With careful attention to not imposing our predetermined concepts of Jesus on our reading, we might discover something new and fresh about the most remarkable person to walk the face of the Earth.
We just might find: an often kind but sometimes less-than-polite Jesus; a revolutionary whose love and mercy threatens those of us who claim to be loving and merciful; and a savior who not only rescues sinners by our definition but reminds those of us who think we are safely on the right shore that we could use a little more rescuing too.
But, then, it’s never a bad time to get better acquainted with Jesus — the sweetest name I know.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.