Most people like Jesus.
We picture him as this wise, deep-thinking leader who is full of knowledge and understanding. He always wears white and talks in smooth tones that make him appeal to everyone. He is full of grace and love and smiles at everyone he meets. He is kind, and flowers appear whenever he is near.
Well, maybe we don’t believe all of that, at least not all the time. We do, however, have this picture of Jesus as a nice guy who people love to be around.
That is the view of Jesus most people hold because they have not read any of the stories of his life. They may have heard a few scattered stories here and there about not judging, letting a woman caught in sin go free, and him telling us to love one another. And all of those are little glimpses of things that Jesus did while he was on the earth, but they are limited.
Those stories are not the whole picture of Jesus. Two times, he was angry at the money changers in the temple who were profiting off religion, and he turned over their tables. One account says he picked up a whip and drove the people out of the area. It is hard to picture Jesus with a whip and not a shepherd’s staff. Another time he called the religious leaders “white-washed tombs.” That is not a compliment. It is a picture of people who look good but their dead inside. Still another time, he calls a lady a dog. Not because she was ugly, but because she was a Gentile and not a part of the people of God. I could go on and on. There are times he is angry with his disciples when he curses a fig tree, parables told to make people feel bad, and the time he healed one man and left all the other cripples behind.
Most of these tales don’t fit our picture of Jesus very well. That is because we have created a version of Jesus that fits our preconceived ideas. We have actually recreated him in our image. We go to Jesus with a set of beliefs and pick out the stories that fit them. One warning sign is when Jesus no longer surprises us. He teaches only what we believe, and he likes the exact things we like and doesn’t approve of the attitudes and actions of which we do not agree.
The gospels present an authentic version of Jesus. As I get older and more mature in my faith, I find that the real Jesus is the one that I need. He confronts sin. He tells me I need to change my heart, my thinking, and my actions to align with him. He broadens my faith and challenges my previous convictions. The Jesus I need is one that pushes and pulls me. He stretches my faith in him, along with my understanding of the nature of God. The Jesus I need is not my watered down, twenty-first-century version of him. I need a Jesus who leads me rather than follows my desires. The best version of Jesus is the untamed one I find in the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
One challenge in faith is to let Jesus be Jesus and not to mold him in my image. This week as you think about Jesus, I encourage you to read the stories you don’t like and look for ways Jesus might be stretching you. It might be uncomfortable, but it might be precisely what you need to grow in your faith.