Who Is Jesus To You?
I saw this story the other day about this guy in Russia who for the past twenty-five years or so amassed a following of 10,000 people, all living with him in a remote, woodland village in the middle of nowhere.
The guy convinced these people to sell their belongings, and enter into what appeared to be kind of an idyllic commune. Ten thousand people.
How did he do this? Well, he claimed to be Jesus of course. At one point, he was an ordinary traffic cop, living an ordinary life near Moscow. Then one day he woke up and realized he was Jesus. He grew out his hair, his beard and even took to wearing long white robes.
If you look at all the artist renderings of Jesus where Jesus looks like a white dude, then you'll pretty much have the picture of this guy in your head.
Anyway, the guy was finally arrested and put into jail for stealing from his own followers. I know this is a shocking conclusion to that story. Never saw that coming, did you?
At any rate, I got to thinking about how someone could pull off a scam like that, and get 10,000 people to fall for it, hook line and sinker. "What a bunch of rubes!" I said to myself.
And then it hit me. There are a lot of us so-called Jesus-followers, who have done something similar.
We might not be willing to sell all of our belongings to go live in a forest with some guy claiming to be Christ, but we have definitely created an image of Jesus that looks nothing like the one that is revealed in the Gospels.
In fact, I've discovered that more and more people who claim to be Christian don't seem to have the first clue about what Jesus taught---other than some carefully redacted highlights that fit their worldview.
Their version of Jesus votes like them, talks like them, seems to hate the people they hate, excludes the people they don't want to include, doesn't really care all that much about the poor and marginalized, doesn't value the leadership skills of women, is preoccupied with morality over mercy... I mean the list is pretty long.
But when you sit down with some of these same people who claim to be Jesus-followers and ask them to remember how their journey with Jesus started, you typically get a different portrait.
They soften, a bit as they recall their childhood memories. You begin to see more clearly perhaps that the image of Jesus they've created looks nothing like the image imprinted deep within their own heart.
Diana Butler Bass recently wrote this bit of amazingness in her book Freeing Jesus:
“Who are you, Lord?” is the question of a lifetime, to be asked and experienced over and over again. That query frees Jesus to show up in our lives over and over again, and entails remembering where we first met, how we struggled with each other along the road, and what we learned in the process.
I realize that the temptation to fashion Jesus into our own image is great. I have gone down that road more than once in my own life, and it doesn't lead anywhere good.
But I've also learned that just as he did with the Pharisees and religious elites of his own day. Jesus defies our characterizations of him and the ways that we would place him into boxes with our own selfish labels affixed to them.
What are your first memories of Jesus in your life? What are the words and phrases that you remember? What images do you recall? Maybe that's a place where you can begin again, and let go of the image that you may have created since then.
Jesus comes to meet us over and over again throughout our life---constantly asking us, just as he asked his own disciples: "Who do you say that I am?" As you seek to answer that question anew, may you find renewed connection with Christ, and may it bring you joy.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.