Have we gotten too used to Jesus?

This is more along the lines of a personal reflection/thought thread.

I’m a personal Jesus film geek. Lately I’ve been watching Dennis Potter’s play Son of Man (televised by the BBC back in 1969). It was a very controversial production for its day; part of the reasons were because of its portrayal of a human Jesus who is tormented by self-doubt, and because it ended at the crucifixion (the same charge leveled against some other Jesus films, because, you know, you gotta include the resurrection :p) - at “My God, why have you forsaken me?” no less. Even today, I expect some people wouldn’t be able to stomach this portrayal. Not to mention that Colin Blakely’s Jesus is hardly the Christ of popular Christian imagination: Blakely’s Jesus is ragged, out of shape, a bit balding, has a rough Irish (?) accent, and generally doesn’t look or sound like a ‘nice’ guy.

http://img43.imageshack.us/img43/5576/colinblakely.jpg

But the controversy aside, there was something in the production that really moved me to ponder. Potter’s Jesus literally has a fire in His belly: it is the fire that moves Him to preach with a burning, almost wrathful zeal, but also threatens to consume Him from within. In fact, this Jesus seemed as if He was almost on the brink of sanity, worn out by the fire of God that burns inside Him. (There are shades of Jeremiah 20:9 here: “there is in my heart as it were a burning fire / shut up in my bones, / and I am weary with holding it in, / and I cannot.”) In fact, there are two scenes where He expressly asks people what they think of Him: do they think He’s mad, demented?

Do you think I’m mad? That question stuck with me. In the gospels, you have people occasionally accusing Jesus of being insane/demon-possessed. Which reminded me: what about us Christians right now? What about me? If somehow I managed to time-travel back to the time of Jesus and met Him, will I think that He is in His right mind? I know some folks will be all too eager for a chance to time travel and meet Jesus face-to-face. But I’m wondering, maybe we’re engaging in premature decisions? What if we finally meet Jesus, and it turns out that He doesn’t exactly fit our notions of how He ‘should’ look or talk or behave?

Some historians say that the historical Jesus was a polarizing figure: there was something in Him that made it impossible for you to form a middle opinion. You either loved Him, or you hated Him. I say we Christians often take that for granted: we often assume that just because we are Christians, we’ll find Jesus ‘palatable’, agreeable to our tastes. We Christians have gotten too comfortable with, too used to Jesus. It’s natural: we’re Christians, many of you live in historically Christian cultures, and so Jesus has in a way been a part of our lives since we were born.

But we’ve never considered the other possibility: what if Jesus managed to offend us, as He did some of His contemporaries? What if we found the actual Jesus to be so completely different from our expectations of Him - what if we become one of those who are offended at Him?

You know that thing some people like to say? “If Jesus came today, He would be crucified by (insert adjective here)” - usually ‘conservatives’ or ‘liberals’ or whatever group you wanna target? (I actually find that statement completely laughable. And cliche. ;)) Do you notice a pattern in those statements? The one who is making that statement implies, “Jesus will agree with ME.” “Jesus will be on MY side.” Everybody wants Jesus to be on their side; He’s God, and is probably a nice person. I mean, who wouldn’t want the Son of God to be on their team? But nobody ever stops to consider: what if WE are the ones who end up asking for (God forbid) Jesus’ death? We often imagine ourselves to be part of those who would weep for Jesus on Good Friday, but we don’t realize, we could also very well end up being those who shout for Barabbas instead. We like to think that we’ll say “My Lord and my God,” but there’s also an equal chance that we’ll say, “Crucify Him.” Before we judge others, it might very well do us some good to check ourselves first.

Jesus films all fail; its tough to portray God, especially when you’ve never seen Him in the flesh. I think He becomes a projection of the producers own persona, or his own heroes in any case. Usually Jesus is too prim, too soft, too passionless. The latest film of this genre, “Son of God”, portrayed Jesus in this more typical fashion, gazing up with a dumb pie in the sky look on his face, preaching with about as much passion as an artichoke. I suppose Potter’s Jesus would’ve at least been a refreshing change away from that stuff. The questions become, ‘what would Jesus do?’, ‘how would Jesus act?’ , even, ‘who was/is Jesus?’

The problem is that, at some basic level, He was like none of us, while also being just like us. He was 100% real, truth personified, all the time, and we don’t even know what that means in any absolute sense. Personally, I’d go for the salt of the earth type, courageous in speaking the truth, and not in some wooden monologue style or like a fanatic or zealot, but straightforward, almost matter-of-factly, using the common manner of the language(s) of His day, even if bordering on coarseness now and then in making His points. All done in absolute love for humanity. A tough prospect. :slight_smile:

I should mention the Jesus film thing in the OP’s first three paragraphs was just a side issue. So don’t focus on it too much. :smiley:

Exactly. You might say this is unavoidable: the gospels don’t go into Jesus’ psychology or inner thoughts. I’ll say even, the fact that people can read what they like into Jesus goes to show just how influential He has become.

Usually Jesus is too prim, too soft, too passionless. The latest film of this genre, “Son of God”, portrayed Jesus in this more typical fashion, gazing up with a dumb pie in the sky look on his face, preaching with about as much passion as an artichoke. I suppose Potter’s Jesus would’ve at least been a refreshing change away from that stuff. The questions become, ‘what would Jesus do?’, ‘how would Jesus act?’ , even, ‘who was/is Jesus?’

That’s the thing: there are actually Christians who will go up in arms if films showed Jesus as being, according to their standards, too human. Sometimes, a few can be very exacting in their mental images: Jesus has gotta be always serious and dignified-looking. If He so much laughed or cracked a joke, or He did not sound like James Earl Jones, it’s out. :stuck_out_tongue: That’s why many films stick with a prim, nearly-emotionless, ultra-divine Jesus: the filmmakers do not want to offend their target audience too much. (Hence the reason why Robert Powell in Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth is a bit stiff: Zeffirelli wanted to play it safe.)

What I can say though is that it seems that as time goes on, many Christians are getting more and more lenient as to what is ‘okay’ when it comes to depicting Jesus. I mean, back in the early 20th century, some people were even against the idea of depicting Jesus in film at all (I expect a few folks still do today).

(To be fair for Son of God, the pretty-boy Jesus who clearly stands out from the people around Him probably worked in that one, since (1) it forces you to focus on Jesus, and (2) it is like a visual version of the Johannine Jesus - who is essentially the stranger from Heaven.)

Just a digression. I’ll say actually that I like religious films in general. Not just Christian; I also watch a few Bollywood ‘mythologicals’ now and then. And I find that even there, Hindus potentially also have the dilemma of how to depict gods or god-men like Krishna or Rama, though all in all Bollywood adaptations of Hindu mythology tend to be more ‘conservative’ than Western films about Jesus in that they mostly stick to standard formulas. Again, this is possibly due to a desire to avoid offending the audience who pay to watch them. That’s actually part of the reason why Peter Brook’s adaptation of the epic Mahabharata was not so popular among many Indians: because for them the characters did not look or act like they think they should. Krishna did not look like the blue/dark-skinned pretty boy of folk Hindu art; he was played by a middle-aged British actor in a drab robe. Nor did the other characters conform to standard iconography (the film boasted a multinational cast, and the ambience was not specifically ‘Indian’) or to the popular, yet oversimplified, understanding of the epic as ‘good guys vs. evil guys’ (the film is more closer to the original epic by showing people in various shades of grey instead of black and white). This is the same thing I see with Jesus films.

Great Topic…Just two quick points.

On Jesus being a polarizing figure. Yes he was.
Fr Barron deals with this in the Catholicism series - he refers to the “domesticated Jesus”

On how I might view Jesus had I been there at the time…
I fear that I must say, in all honesty, that since I tend to be conservative and assuming a was a practicing Jew…I might tend NOT to believe.
Would I be throwing stones and calling for crucifixion? Probably not…that is not really my nature. Most likely I’d be at home tending to my own life and family.

That said, I don’t think I agree with your idea that one must make a choice. Many came out to hear him, but then many Jews simply went back home to their daily lives. Perhaps like the seed that lands on the path or on the stony ground. One might say then (as many do today"
“Yes it sounds nice - all this love stuff - but is it practical?” “I’ve got work to do and a family to provide for…I can’t be bothered with all of this.” “I keep the law as best I can and the rest is up to God”.

Just some thoughts.

Peace
James

Having no Resurrection is fine, if you are using the Gospel that doesn’t show one. (Although Mark does, really. Some people are allergic to Chapter 16 because the older mss end at verse 8; but that just seems stupid.) But if you’re going to get all “more early mss than thou,” you have to do the full Early Christian experience, and put up a title card promising to give the end of the story at the secret mystagogical initiation that occurs after catechesis and Baptism. :slight_smile:

Well, of course Jesus was polarizing. Every saint we know about was polarizing. If you read about our modern saints, there’s always that one guy (or several guys) who really can’t stand having somebody in the convent doing miracles. And that one guy isn’t usually a bad person. They’re often a very good person who does good work. But coming face to face with, or living with, someone who’s absolutely holy – or who can be a helpless schmo one moment and commanding the forces of nature the next moment – that gets up some people’s noses like no tomorrow. Some people feel grace and goodness as a reprimand, even if the person doesn’t say anything harsh to them. Some people can’t stand someone else having what they don’t have and get jealous, or they feel like their own sufferings and struggles have been disregarded by God since they haven’t received similar gifts.

So yeah, I imagine that Jesus got up some people’s noses just by walking down the street, the same way other people would find themselves panting to follow Him. Somebody like Judas may have managed to feel both ways at once.

Sorry to pick just one item out of your fine post…but I think that this really hits an important point.

Jesus WAS Human - and I think that this was a large part of the point. Jesus came to show us poor humans what CAN be done. that sin CAN be avoided. That there is so much more available to us in our humanity than what we too often think.
Of course this is also tied up with the correcting of the error of Adam.

To me, part of the reason for our veneration of saints is because we have placed Jesus too far into the “God” role and ignored the “human”.

Just a thought.

Peace
James

Actually, you’ve got that the wrong way around. We venerate saints and the relics of saints because they show how Christ has sanctified humanity and human lives, including their human bodies’ remains. Groups that see Christ as more God than Man tend to denigrate the saints. (They also tend to believe that there’s no good at all in humans after the Fall, which is part of why they have trouble seeing Jesus as Man.)

OTOH, groups that see Christ as more Man than God tend to basically turn Him into a saint. (For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses see no difference between Christ and St. Michael, and indeed think they’re the same guy. Mormon theology sees even God as just some guy who’s very evolved and saintly.)

I would say that some Catholics seem to be shy about talking to Jesus or any member of the Trinity, and thus resort more heavily to veneration of the saints. But I think that’s more rooted in a cultural distrust of bothering people in charge, than in seeing Jesus as God and not Man. It may also just be bashfulness about exposing a close and tender relationship with Jesus; a lot of people have been taught by their culture not to show any sign of piety in certain categories, lest they seem presumptuous. It’s very hard to know what is in people’s hearts from what you can see people do on the outside.

But yes, we have to see Jesus as both Man and God, and that’s very difficult to do on film.

Alright. I agree with the others that Jesus would’ve had a polarizing effect: pride would cause deaf ears while humility would allow for acceptance of the truths He spoke. Adam’s choice was the way of pride, actually, which went along with embracing the lie that he could be God. And the world now exists in a compromised state vis a vis truth; we’re often comfortable with half-truths and lies. We’re here to learn that Adam was wrong. We’re here to come to recognize the light that came into the world and why it shouldn’t be rejected. But it doesn’t come easy, and like you say, Christianity/Catholicism has become such a cultural phenomenon that it’s entirely possible to be a member without really seriously considering who Jesus is, or being challenged by Him-and the movies often don’t help out much in this area.

One of the earliest Jesus films (From the Manger to the Cross, 1912) also ended at the crucifixion. And not surprisingly, that film also raised a controversy in its day. (It was also controversial because it showed Jesus et al. at the Last Supper reclining around a round table and Jesus carrying a T-shaped cross. In other words, some could not stomach it because it deviated from the ‘standard’ iconography.) In fact, you could say From the Manger to the Cross got the Markan treatment: just as the longer and shorter endings (pastiches of material from the other gospels) were tacked on to the abrupt ending of Mark’s gospel, later re-releases of FtMttC tacked on a resurrection and ascension scene lifted from another Jesus film, this time an Italian one (Christus, 1914).

Where it kinda gets problematic is this assumption that some people have that ending a Jesus film at the crucifixion is automatically tantamount to denying the resurrection. There’s apparently this expectation that you gotta show everything for it to be a kosher Jesus film. This is also really why it’s become a standard cliche of Jesus films to show every minute detail of the Passion: the carrying of the cross, the stripping of Jesus, the nailing to the cross, the raising of the cross. It’s a form of holy eye candy. Protestants and non-Christians may not realize it, but that conceit (of showing as much detail as we can cram into the film) actually has roots from our (Catholic) practice of meditating upon aspects of Jesus’ life, be it the Rosary or the Stations of the Cross.

The TV version of Potter’s Son of Man ended with “why hast thou forsaken me?” juxtaposed with the very first scene: Jesus in the desert repeatedly asking God “Is it me?” That was a very dark ending, so Potter apparently switched the last word in the play version: the more triumphal “It is finished” instead of “why hast thou forsaken me?”

Well, of course Jesus was polarizing. Every saint we know about was polarizing. If you read about our modern saints, there’s always that one guy (or several guys) who really can’t stand having somebody in the convent doing miracles. And that one guy isn’t usually a bad person. They’re often a very good person who does good work. But coming face to face with, or living with, someone who’s absolutely holy – or who can be a helpless schmo one moment and commanding the forces of nature the next moment – that gets up some people’s noses like no tomorrow. Some people feel grace and goodness as a reprimand, even if the person doesn’t say anything harsh to them. Some people can’t stand someone else having what they don’t have and get jealous, or they feel like their own sufferings and struggles have been disregarded by God since they haven’t received similar gifts.

So yeah, I imagine that Jesus got up some people’s noses just by walking down the street, the same way other people would find themselves panting to follow Him. Somebody like Judas may have managed to feel both ways at once.

Exactly. What I’m really talking about is, too often we imagine ourselves that we’ll like Jesus just because we’re Christians and all and we’re so used to Him, but all the while we forget that we could also easily be that one guy who can’t stand being in the proximity of holy people.

This kinda leads me back to “If Jesus came today, He would be crucified by …” As I mentioned, most people who make this statement (whatever group they belong to) seem to assume that Jesus would agree with them and their views, because the group they often name as the one who’ll supposedly kill Jesus usually happen to be ones they disagree with. (That’s why for ‘liberals’, the maxim goes like “If Jesus came today, He would be crucified by ‘conservatives’/the Church/what have you,” and vice versa.) They never ask, “If Jesus came today, could I possibly end up crucifying Him?” It’s always about other people. IMHO it kinda reeks of the ‘Jesus and me’ mentality with a little dash of ‘holier than thou’-ism.

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