The Jesus I Thought I Knew
The Jesus I thought I knew as a teenager was soft-spoken, sensitive, loving and kind--except when he encountered people who didn't believe in him. The Jesus I learned about in youth group had no patience for unbelievers. In fact, I was under the impression that when he encountered unbelievers, Jesus would often straight up tell them that they were going to hell.
I wasn't aware at the time just how much the Jesus I thought I knew looked so very much like the pastors and youth leaders, who taught me. When it did occur to me, I decided I didn't really want to follow them or their Jesus at all.
Thankfully, many years later I not only discovered fresh images of Jesus that contradicted those angry, judgmental images, I also discovered that I really and truly wanted to follow him and dedicate my life to trying to live into his example.
In the early days of my journey, I found that it's impossible to read the Gospels and come up with a neat portrait of Jesus that is easy to put your head around. His words are challenging, his ideals for discipleship are all-consuming, and his notions of what makes a successful follower are counter-intuitive.
The best I could do was stumble after Jesus, and hope that I was stumbling in the right direction.
After spending the last couple of decades stumbling after Jesus, however, I've come to know him differently, and I've come to this one conclusion about him: You can't pigeon-hole Jesus. You can't remake him into your own image, either. Theologian Walter Wink once wrote that if Jesus had never lived, we would not be able to invent him.
One of the many things I have learned as I've stumbled after Jesus is that the "unbelievers" I thought he was railing against were actually religious people, and further, Jesus went out of his way to welcome outsiders, outcasts, losers and the lost.
I also discovered that Jesus talked about money more than he talked about heaven and hell. Additionally, he wanted his followers to experience eternal life now in the present, perhaps even more than then after they die.
As the season of Christmas draws to a close and we enter into the season of Epiphany, we have the chance to renew our relationship with the real Jesus, the complicated Jesus, the challenging Jesus, the Jesus we meet on the Way of discipleship as we stumble after him in the right direction.
May you draw closer to Christ this new year. May you have your own epiphany about who Jesus is to you, and how his presence in your life transforms you and makes you new. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.