What does Jesus look like? That’s a question we dare not ask ourselves, either because it seems too bold, even irreverent, or because deep down we think it doesn’t really matter. Yet in either case, we use it as an excuse for staying put. We dream of the open road, but don’t really want to travel it.
‘You road I enter upon and look around!
I believe you are not all that is here;
I believe that much unseen is also here.
I think heroic deeds were all conceiv’d in the open air,
and all great poems also;
I think I could stop here myself, and do miracles…’
(Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, ‘Song of the Open Road’)
Leave it to unchurchable poets to sing about and to enjoy the freedom of the sons of God, while we who say we know Him transhumanize ourselves into icy statues, caricatures of the Divine Image on whom we are modeled, instead of accepting Life from Him who raised Lazarus after four days of death, and who robbed Hades of the rest of the dead universe, and for ever.
How do we want to see Jesus? returning to our excuses. Is it the historical Y’shua ben Maryam, the Aramaic-speaking artisan’s son turned baffling rabbi and then incomprehensibly rejected messiah? He hung on the scaffold while day turned to night and the earth shook, breathed His last, all the while we and the rest of the world, believers and unbelievers, not knowing what He was doing, or why, or how.
We see His humanity walking on a spit of history engulfed between empires, hear the words He spoke to others—never to ourselves—watch Him work wonders that we could never do, and the longer we watch and think about Him, we grow less and less able to follow Him or hear His voice. He retreats farther into dark history than He ever retreated into bright heaven at His ascension. He’s a little brown man who doesn’t speak our language, doesn’t know what we have to put up with, and so we’ve no choice but to just believe, and let Him slip through our midst as He did the crowd that wanted to stone Him.
Or we see His divinity re-imaged to fit the cultural sensibilities of ours and earlier ages, now a white, American Jesus—at least we don’t crown Him with a baseball cap!—or a black man curiously resembling a muscular antebellum slave, as He invites an adoring woman with arms raised to be loosed. When He reveals His deity to us in the Bible we downplay it and make Him out to be ‘just a man,’ and when He shows us His humanity in the only Book where it is depicted, we exalt Him to divine status and entrench ourselves in ‘I could never do that!’ ignoring the evangelist’s closing remarks, ‘all the world wouldn’t be big enough to contain all the books’ that would have to be written to describe the acts of Jesus Christ.
All the world wouldn’t be big enough? All the books? What books? Now I’m getting confused. What about our reasons for not being able to follow Jesus and do what He commands? We can’t see Him. He is not just the historical Jesus, yet the Jesus of theology belongs to the saints. We can’t hear His voice, or at least can’t distinguish it from everyone else’s. We can’t know His teaching because of all the interpretations. Our road isn’t open like that lying poet’s. It’s full of road blocks that we didn’t put there. Like the Greeks who came and said, ‘We want to see Jesus!’ what’s the answer given us? Did they get to see Him or not? Do we? Is it our fault that we can’t ‘stop here’ ourselves ‘and do miracles?’
Gentleness, meekness, a child’s trust, a Jew’s shrewdness, a gypsy’s innocence and sense of adventure. ‘If you want to see well, pluck out your eyes and be blind. If you want to hear well, be deaf. If you want to walk well, cut off your feet,’ says ludicrously wise brother Giles of Assisi, and he seems to know what he’s talking about. He’s not talking about the Lord, but about this world. If you want to see Jesus as He really is, stop imagining Him as you want Him to be. If you want to hear His voice, stop listening to other voices, even ones that claim to tell you about Him: just listen to what He says. And if you want to follow Christ in this world, cut off your programs and plans, and just walk in His footsteps. How? What? Where?
The books of the Holy Gospels. The lives of the Holy Prophets, Apostles and Saints. Yes, keep to what is written, whether on paper in ink, or on flesh in blood. The Book, yes, the holy and divine scripture, is not primarily written in human words on parchment, but in human works on skins—our own. Yet not to depart from the unchanging Message, make it your home, your clothing, your food, your wealth. What is this Message? It is the life of Christ written in your flesh. It is living the life of heaven on earth. But it all begins in the Bible, in the written Word of God, especially in the Holy Gospels. So, you and I can see Jesus and hear His voice, today.
In the beginning was the Word:
the Word was with God, and the Word was God…
the Word was with God, and the Word was God…