My last post talked about my struggle to determine whether I believe in Jesus at all, and it (kind of) explores why I chose to do just that. That’s a big question, and one that I needed to answer before I could delve into the subject matter behind this post. I’m a girl who loves extremes, so why stop at, “Why do we believe that Jesus was God”? when I can uselessly speculate on “What do we know of Jesus the human?” In this post we will discuss Jesus as a man, exploring such varied subjects as teenage crushes, workplace boredom, and poop. You have been warned.
I’m not sure this entire subject isn’t sacrilegious, but it’s one that sticks with me, nonetheless. See, its easy for me to think of Jesus as this distant “grown-up” who did some pretty awesome stuff (miracle wine, zapping insulting fig trees – you know the stories) and then changed the whole world. That’s pretty epic, but the point you should have taken from that sentence is that Jesus was distant. Its easy for me to think of Jesus the way I might think of some politician or other kind of world changer – important, notable, good for the world as a whole, but not actively involved in my day to day life. I can’t imagine being an omnipotent man-God with super powers. Not me. I’m too normal, too “every day”. I get up in the mornings and I smoke a cigarette and I take a shower and I put on my poly/cotton blended blouse and my slacks. Then I go spend all day taking calls at a call center, doing nothing of any miraculous import. After work I kill time by being generally foul-mouthed and lovingly disrespectful with my friends. How much could someone like me really relate to someone who was perfect, and did miracles, and was fucking God for God’s sake?
One of the points of being a practicing Christian is learning how to retrain your brain toward focusing on Jesus and his example. I’m still working on it. But no matter how hard I try to put myself in Jesus’ sandals, even with him being more relatable than the Big G, it’s still pretty hard to imagine Jesus living a life like my life. That’s probably why the question of whether or not to believe in him comes up so frequently. It’s one thing to read the Bible and to take the stories of the characters described within as metaphor. I mean, who cares if Joseph really had a technicolor dream coat before his asshole brothers threw him in a hole and sold him to slavers? The point is that Joseph served God even in the worst of situations and ended up being the ruler of Egypt (or damn near enough). You can take that story, sift out the moral, and move on. But it’s another thing to treat Jesus the same way – his stories are more than just colorful fables written to show us examples of how to behave in a given situation (even if his parables definitely include that). Even a little kid can point out how different Jesus’ stories are from the others – his are in red ink. Without Jesus, without the character of the personification of God, the very nature of God is defined in Old Testament terms – and many of us Christians believe that God is more than wrath, plagues, and the divvying out of virgins. How would we know that, if not for what is written about Jesus? Christ is the legend by which the rest of the Bible can be understood. Without Jesus, we’re just reading a bunch of books.
Knowing this, how am I supposed to justify the fact that I do kind of clump him in with the rest of the biblical characters? Or, more importantly, how do I mentally separate him from those secondary characters and re-envision him as someone who seems more real, more relatable?
Lately, I’ve been thinking about Jesus a lot more than I used to. It started with late-night conversations with Daniel (I would just like to pause here a moment to say that deep and thoughtful conversation/debate with one’s spouse is a huge help in untangling yourself from the weeds and keeping yourself focused), then I wrote my most recent blog post. Now it’s almost Easter and so Jesus stories are basically freaking everywhere. Not to diminish what Jesus did for us, but the stories that get played (and played, and played, and played) throughout the holiday season are so familiar that even atheists know them by rote.
This year, though, I’ve been thinking about things a little differently. The holiday (literally, the holy day) that occurs this upcoming Sunday is supposed to focus on the culmination of Jesus’ life. Obviously people will focus on his death and subsequent resurrection. But I find myself wondering about the life of the man that lived as God among men, knowing where his road would lead, and drinking from that cup anyway.
Did the fact that Jesus died willingly mean that mean he never felt torment? We know he struggled in the garden of Gethsemane, but how did he react the first time he learned that he would be tortured to death? Was he tempted to stick with carpentry?He accepted God’s will, but did that mean he wanted to?
Did Jesus’ divinity mean that he was never hungry, or too cold, or too hot, or sick?
Did he, as a youthful apprentice carpenter, ever fall in love with someone he knew he would never be with because of where his path would lead?
Did he spend days teaching, all the while looking out across the Sea of Galilee and watching the sun sparkle invitingly on the waters, wishing that he could be doing something else? Did he feel those things and serve anyway?
Jesus was a man – but was he a man like us?
Of course these are questions we can’t ever answer. Jesus lived two thousand years ago, and the only people that actually hung out with him are super dead. The main source of what information we actually about his life is in the Bible, and the Gospel writers chose to focus on his supernatural side. That’s fair, as that is the part of Jesus that separated him from all the other dudes around him. It seems to me, though, that focusing on Jesus’ divinity only tells us half of his story.
I’m not alone in my musings about the man Jesus. Author Johnnie Moore wrapped up the whole subject really nicely in his article, where he basically explores Jesus and how relatable he must have been to the average poor person of the time. Why? Because he was probably dirty, stinky, and occasionally suffering from dysentery. Just like you or I! Its an awesomely insightful read and I’d take a few minutes to do do if you haven’t. It went a long way toward showing me a side of Jesus, albeit a grosser one, that made him much more relatable to me.
A cigarette smoking, slacks wearing, foul mouthed American girl might not have much in common with a messiah, but I can relate a bit more to a carpenter who gets his hands dirty just like I do (metaphorically. . . I work in an office.) I feel like this Jesus is the sort of dude who wouldn’t be offended if I had to leave the Sermon on the Mount to make a potty run. Additionally, I imagine he would enjoy just chilling around a fire pit listening to Daniel and I suck at the guitar. That is so cool to me.
Thinking about Jesus’ story lately, it occurred to me that Jesus’ mission started when he was 30. That’s exactly my age. That shed light on him in a whole new way. Suddenly he wasn’t this grownup who had it all figured out. Suddenly I’m in his shoes, still feeling 21 and immature and irresponsible. Hell, sometimes it takes a forklift to get me out the door to work, and I’m not facing crucifixion at the end of my job. I can’t imagine knowing I had three years left before I was horribly killed. I can’t imagine being able to find motivation to keep going – especially after he went back to Nazareth and was so disrespected that he couldn’t do any of his messianic stuff. Didn’t they like chase him out of town and try to pitch him over a cliff or something? One of them is noted as saying something like, “Isn’t this that carpenter’s son??! Wtf?”
In his hometown, he wasn’t the messiah. He was just “that guy Jesus. Y’know, the carpenter’s kid. Big scandal over his birth, I’ll tell you about it sometime”. When he tried to be more than that, they mocked him right out of town. Feels like my highschool years all over again.
And when exactly did Jesus become aware of his destiny? There’s some suggestion he knew fairly early, like when he got left in Jerusalem during that Passover. His parents didn’t realize he wasn’t with the caravan until they were halfway home. They found him right where they left him, posted up with the rabbis. I think he was fairly young then, and there’s a whole lot of life between prepubescent temple Jesus and 30 year old homeless missionary Jesus. Did he ever have a sweetheart? A schoolmate that he crushed on before realizing that marrying that poor girl would be a horrible idea? Did any girls secretly crush on him? I had tons of relationships in my life between “dating age” and “grown up”. A few of them I even thought were pretty serious and I hung out with them for a few years during that space of time. I wasn’t focused on dating, I didn’t care all that much about sex, and I was brainy and I still managed to break double digits. . . I think. I didn’t count. Either way, I wonder if there were any flames in young teenager Jesus’ life. I wonder if he dealt with heartbreak or separation or even the temptation of jealousy.
I know Jesus was sinless, but does that mean he never felt that prickling of reactionary emotion that you or I might? Does feeling that, regardless of whether you act on it or not, count as a sin in and of itself? I know Jesus got fed up with things. The story of him and the fig tree was such a wonderful mix of divinity and human frustration that I feel closer to him every time I read it. I just smile and nod and say, “Yeah, I’ve been there.”
Putting Jesus’ life in the perspective of my own makes it suddenly mind-breakingly obvious what a huge and awesome thing it is that he was willing to do what he did for us. For me at least, these meanderings make me feel closer to Jesus, and through him, God. It makes his death, celebrated yesterday on Good Friday, all that more poignant.
What about you guys? Any casual meanderings about Jesus that make him seem more real and relatable to you? Any real moments of humanity you see from him in the scriptures that make you see him in a new light?