About every month or so I come across a certain kind of writing. Sometimes it’s a blog, other times it’s book. Someone describes what they think people would do if Jesus were to appear before them and speak. WWJS? Or they write about what people should do in order to emulate Jesus’ behavior, thereby reflecting His unchanging mission here on Earth.
This writing reminds us that it’s through our actions that we discover what really drives a person, what fire burns hottest in the blacksmith of their hearts. We discover if we are for Jesus or against Him. It’s a worthy reminder.
More times than not, however, I disagree with the specifics of this writing because it creates a stilted caricature of either Jesus, crowds, or both. It tends to put 'the ugly' of life on other people, and it tends to reduce Jesus to a manageable and pliable cardboard cut-out of our will, not God’s.
For example, I believe that if His identity were concealed, we would censor Him at church if He were to say what He said in the Gospels. You know, the tough talk. And I’m not talking hellfire and brimstone. I’m talking Jesus’ bad etiquette - His yelling and name calling, His inciting fear in both crowds and His own followers.
That Jesus, the untamed malcontent dissenter, the guy in the crowd who can’t help but espouse His contrary views. The guy who pokes fun at hypocritical authority, the guy who makes those around Him mighty uncomfortable, the person you wouldn’t want as a roommate for very long.
And that’s the church crowd. What about the rest of the world?
I believe there is a segment that, contrary to what we church people think or have been told, would invite Him out for a drink because they find Him odd in an amusing way. They would want to hear what He had to say because it’s sometimes a kick to hear a foreigner’s perspective, to get his take on life. If nothing more, it’s entertaining to listen to the meter of another’s words, compare them to your own, and wonder how he got that way.
This is part of the allure of travel: to rub yourself against the unfamiliar rub of another and his culture. It helps define who you are, for there is no ‘unique you’ to take pride in without a social context. But with peculiar Jesus standing next to you at your favorite haunt, you don’t have to travel. You just arrive and you get the experience for free. No passport.
So there is a group that would welcome Jesus, this unimpressive-looking man in his 30s, to come along with them as they unwind after a day’s work. The people in the group would take turns talking about their day. Each conversation would, in one way or another, revolve around money, for we are, each and every day, living under the weight of this great currency. When Jesus speaks, people listen, not so much for wisdom and learning, but to catch His queer phrases and concerns.
I think this cross section, which represents many of us moderns if not the majority, would listen to what He said about the poor, money, justice, and love — then laugh. It would be the laughter we produce when we experience people and ideas that are out of step, like people who wear clothing from thirty years ago. This laughter would be mixed with the other kind that comes from hearing ideas that are so seemingly full of folly and naivety.
This cynical cross section of our time, a pie slice of our cultural soul, might take a collective gulp of beer, put it down, then explain to monk Jesus the facts of life:
The poor are with us always because they choose that lifestyle. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The love of money can actually be a good thing because it helps create jobs that those poor people are too lazy to get. Justice is a fickle matter, hombre. Best not to think too much about it. Just live a good life yourself; that’s the most you can really hope for. Helping others is best left to the non-profit experts. Otherwise you might get sued. Love’s dangerous. We tried that in high school. Most of us settle for sex instead, and try to squeeze in a vacation or two a year, along with a kitchen remodel every five, which feels like love to us.
But all would not be as it appeared. An oddball would hear what Jesus said, see Him through the smoke and past the waitresses dressed in designer black and pony-tail hair, and be unable to shake the words that he hates at times, loves at others. But he won’t give his intrigue a public display, the way we see in Billy Graham movies. He will keep an eye on this time traveler; wait till He leaves, pay his bar tab, and then under the cover of darkness, away from the view and the bullying pressure of his cynical peers, press Jesus for more information about this road less traveled. He might confide in this misfit a sin or two, even the scars of his careworn heart.
And who knows. He might with time become a redemptive oddball himself, another man with a dissenting view who seems to get his talking points from a far away time, a baseline of unyielding persuasion that brings redemption to some, a chuckle to others.
P aul Coughlin is the author of No More Christian Nice Guy and its companion Study Guide. He and his wife Sandy are the authors of Married But Not Engaged: Why Men Check Out and What You Can Do to Create The Intimacy You Desire. Visit him online at www.christianniceguy.com