Its a phenom I have had familiarity with for years. It came clear to me in the work of N.T. Wright when he described Albert Schweitzer’s Quest For The Historical Jesus and detailed several scholarly attempts, especially from the 19th Century, to historically reconstruct a proper portrait of Jesus and get to the essence of who the man was and what he did. Even now, some scholars emphasize the wisdom of Jesus and call him a “sage”; others emphasize his gentleness and call him a “shepherd”; while others emphasize his upheaval and call him a “rebel”. And sure enough, there are plenty of important passages of Scripture to support any and all of these emphases.
The trick (if we can call it that), it seems, is to not reduce him to any of our pet categories, because when you do that, you essentially remake Jesus in your own image (or in the image you admire). And that is a sure sign you have put your own desires, fears, and flawed self into the picture and labeled it “Jesus”. Essentially a Jesus idol.
This is exactly backward from the process faith should produce. You should uncover Jesus, the real Jesus, and you should be remade in his image! Your life should, in theory, be more and more like his! We should be able to look at you and see him! That is the way its supposed to go.
The fact is that we all engage in this reductionist idolatry. The world in which we live is not immune, and there is no such thing as pure objectivity – some spiritual vacuum where our own biases do not impinge on our attempts to see, hear, and know Jesus. There are of course, measures we can take to correct it, but no universal precaution exists where we can study Jesus and leave all our fears, desires, and flaws aside. No. They must be engaged as we deal with him and he with us.
Wright shows me that at the turn of the 20th Century, one scholar (Schweitzer) came along and called the bluff on all the others, and basically shut down the Quest For The Historical Jesus with his attempt to reproduce him for the modern mind. The scientific rules for knowledge just cannot cope. And for most of the century, scholars pretty much threw in the towel on the Quest.
As I wake up this morning to news of a Pittsburgh synagogue shot up, and see interviews with Jewish survivors, I am reminded of Jews I have met over the course of my life and of my visit to synagogue meetings. Here in West Texas such encounters are rare for Protestants like me. We have a quiet synagogue, but I have never visited, and I do not personally have ongoing relationship with any Jews – nor do I know of any of my friends having such contact. But I know a lot of Protestant Christians from a dozen or more faith groups all of whose religious faith descends from Jewish heritage.
Yet, I have met non-observant Jews and observant Jews, liberal, conservative and Hasidic. Not all Jews are alike by any stretch. And surely Jesus, a Jew of the First Century, was not like all the other Jews (different in significant ways). Nevertheless, they share a heritage and many cultural/religious trappings, story, and artifacts in common. Certainly all Jews are aware of historical hostilities against them simply because of their faith and heritage. They all uniquely share this!
And so I am looking into the faces of people with whom I share some deep commitments. I, along with all my Protestant friends, have adopted the heritage they were born into by race. We worship the same God and recite the same stories about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yet we look, sound, and behave very differently. We have all put ourselves into the portraits of faith we remake.
Among my Protestant friends, with whom I share an official embrace of Jesus (unlike MOST of our Jewish friends), I see major differences here too. One Christian heritage thinks God wants us to be rich and have a lot of money, that he blesses America with power, troops, and white-Anglo-Saxon privilege and promotes conservative politics. Another faith heritage emphasizes strict Bible interpretation. Yet another emphasizes God’s grace to the point that there is no Judgment on evil. And I find practically everything in between. (Cowboy church anyone???)
This is all starting to remind me of the Mall of God (which I posted about a few months ago). In the Mall of God, you are a consumer of faith – of Jesus junk. You can glut your life with tee shirts and bumper stickers, with best seller books and gold-chain, cross necklaces. You can devote yourself to 40 Days of Purpose (remember that fad?) by purchasing a copy of Purpose Driven Life, reading it with your small group, and while you’re at it, get the “handsome, leather-bound Purpose Driven Journal” and the coffee mug too! Or maybe you can read Left Behind (remember that fad?), and in fact just get the whole series if you are extra spiritual. Watch the movie and even play the “Left Behind family board game” if you just really wanna take it to the next level.
Fortunately (hate that word, but…), none of the Jews (to my knowledge) are making board games out of their faith. But we American consumers have reduced ourselves and our Jesus to a few consumer whims.
And that disturbs me.
And I think this stupid charade is what my church is really protecting from the homeless. This is the garbage we don’t want to interrupt by opening the door to the poor. The poor consume worse than the rest of us (actually they don’t worship at the altar of consumer purchases in the approved liturgies); they don’t know how to do it with the same je ne sais quoi that we appreciate in the Jesus we remake in our image.
No. When the poor and homeless come in our door, they stink of B.O., of piss, of cigarettes and alcohol, and they eat us out of house-n-home. They are as worthless as a losing scratch(ed)-off lottery ticket; like a booger on your finger, you can’t seem to get rid of them.
So when you are ready to have quiet time with your Purpose Driven Journal, you sense your are Left Behind with them. After all, they don’t have a home to go home to, so they never know when to go home.
And caring for people like this just does not fit with the Jesus we have remade in our own image.