A painting with a familiar face
Preparing for Reign of Christ Sunday, a picture came to mind–one with a familiar face.
It was not long after I began my studies as a Master’s of Divinity student that I met Will Ferrell Jesus.
“Hey, can you tell me where Dr. So&So’s office is located?” I asked a seasoned student.
“Sure! It’s just around the corner from Will Ferrell Jesus,” was the response.
“Um, I’m sorry, what?” I must have misheard.
“Here, I’ll show you,” the student said, directing me through a door to a small hallway.And there he was. Will Ferrell’s clone holding a lamb and draped in first century garb. I suppose praying to Little Baby Jesus with the golden fleece diapers earns you a right to be the face of the Almighty. Who knew?
Seeing Jesus with familiar features
We grad students, sitting high on our theological haunches, made plenty of jokes about Will Ferrell Jesus as if we would never craft Jesus in the image of Hollywood. But the truth is, the artist of that particular rendering of the Son of God was no more self-centered than any of the other artists who’ve featured Christ. Just do a quick Google search and you’ll see that Christians from Seoul picture Jesus with Korean features, while Chinese Christians draw him to look more like them. Kenya artists paint Jesus with Black skin, but Palestinian ones give his skin a more olive hue. Of course, the Palestinian artists probably get it right . . . though perhaps not really intentionally.
The thing is, we imagine the human Jesus and his peers to look more or less like us–whoever we are. Scandinavian? You might imagine Jesus with pale skin and blond hair. From Argentina? Perhaps you picture Jesus with darker features.
It’s not really wrong for our mind to conceive of Jesus as someone who looks familiar. After all, part of our faith is that we are called to have a relationship with Jesus; naturally, we conjure a recognizable image. It makes sense; but that doesn’t mean that this selfie version of Christ is accurate, or even helpful.
Jesus the radical
This Sunday is Reign of Christ Sunday. It’s the Sunday when we dare to believe it’s possible for the Kingdom of God to exist on earth just as it is in heaven. To do that, we have to stop picturing God’s Son as just our buddy from down the street, so we can start seeing Jesus Christ as the one who proclaims good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners and the oppressed, and recovery of sight to the blind. This isn’t simply a BFF who waits by the phone for our text. This is a radically innovative, barrier busting, insanely compassionate Kingdom Builder who calls us to counter-cultural allegiances that look nothing like the priorities of our favorite news outlet.
Imagine the possible
So, rather than picturing a Jesus who looks like us, let’s imagine ourselves looking more like Jesus the Christ. Doing so helps us to understand the meaning of Reign of Christ Sunday. It’s a day for us to imagine a world in which every follower of Christ chooses to live as Jesus did: acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. And when this Sunday is done, let’s keep that picture in our minds and illustrate it with our lives: day by day, moment by moment, following Jesus in the intentional (if infinitely messy) way of relentless Love.