Abandoning the stained-glass messiah

Vacations sometimes go wrong. One summer my family went to a remote lake in Northwestern Ontario, where we planned to fish for a week. When we arrived, we realized that no one had remembered to pack the fishing rods!

But that doesn’t compare to Jason Cairns-Lawrence’s story. He and his wife came to America to enjoy a September holiday in New York – on 9/11/2001. If that weren’t bad enough, they were sightseeing in London in 2005 when the Underground bombings took place. Then, three years later, they were vacationing in Mumbai when Islamic terrorists targeted foreigners in a horrific killing spree.

Believe it or not, even Jesus had stories of vacation misadventures. As far as we know, he left the country only once when he visited the coastal regions of Tyre and Sidon. All the time he was there a distraught woman followed him around town, crying loudly for help and embarrassing his disciples. Then, when he entered his host’s home, she followed him in!

On another vacation he crossed the Sea of Galilee for some rest and relaxation with his closest friends. Shortly after arriving at his destination, people found out where he was and about five thousand of them showed up at his campsite. So much for rest and relaxation.

The most surprising thing about all this is not that Jesus’s holidays didn’t always go according to plan – whose does? – but that Jesus took holidays at all. Doesn’t it seem odd that the Son of God took time out from saving the world to go on vacations?
And yes, they were real vacations. In the Gospel of St. Mark we read that Jesus told his closest friends and co-workers: “‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.” That’s a vacation.

Somehow that doesn’t seem to fit the image of Jesus the Son of God that most of us have. He was intensely serious, wasn’t he? Occupied with the work of saving the world, he had no time for fun and games. And he was certainly not the kind of guy who needed to take vacations.

No, wait a minute. That’s not Jesus … that’s you! Somehow Jesus found time to hold little babies, go to parties (if you don’t believe it, read Luke 5:29), take a lunch break and even go fishing. He frequently left the busy streets and hiked up into the mountains for some solitude time. And he never seemed to be in a hurry. Ever.

We, on the other hand, are always in a hurry. We have ten things to do before lunch, and who is going to do them, if not us? It’s all up to me, our messiah complex whispers. Funny, the only person who doesn’t seem to have a messiah complex was the messiah.

If we dare to think it through, we might discover that many of the things the Bible records Jesus saying and doing don’t fit our image of him. But if that’s true, it must be our stained-glass image – beautiful, remote, and stationary – that is distorted.

The Jesus the apostles knew and the New Testament describes was not made of stained glass. He was neither fragile nor distant, and was certainly not inactive. It wasn’t the biblical writers who turned him into a mild-mannered itinerant sage, spouting religious platitudes. That was left to nineteenth century theologians.

And it was not Matthew, Mark, Luke or John who gave us Jesus, the wandering “peace and love” guru. Each generation has remade Jesus in its own image, and in so doing has “pared the claws of the Lion of Judah,” as Dorothy Sayers once put it. We’ve tamed him, this complex, loving, fiery, funny, compassionate man who was “the image of the invisible God.”

Whether Jesus was celebrating with sinners, vacationing with friends, scolding Pharisees or dying on a cross, he was revealing the nature, character and values of the God he called “Father.” And if God is like that, he is certainly someone I’d like to know. Wouldn’t you?

Published first in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, April 5, 2014


About salooper57

Husband, father, pastor, follower. I am a disciple of Jesus, learning how to do life from him. I read, write, walk, play a little guitar, enjoy my family.
This entry was posted in Faith, Spiritual life, Theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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