When you think of Jesus, who do you imagine? Does an image of a kind, blonde-haired young man in a white robe surrounded by little children come to mind? Do you view Jesus as a tough, commanding, radical who spoke truth to power? Has your vision of Jesus, like mine, been shaped by the soft-focused picture of our Savior which hung in your grandma's house?
The church and Christian culture offer a dizzying array of images of Jesus. Most of which look nothing like the first century Jew Jesus was, in reality. A stroll through your local Christian bookstore will prove my point. Before we commence an iconoclastic crusade to purge Christendom of its Americanized Christs, let's consider the significance of our representations of Jesus.
These images or interpretations of Jesus are important because who we believe Jesus to be directly shapes our understanding of what it means to faithfully follow him, as well as our understanding of ourselves. Jesus' life is the ethical norm of the Christian faith. A false view of Jesus can harmfully shape our beliefs about what it means to be humans—men and women created together in the image of God.
Frequently, I've heard people say that they can't relate to the "chick-a-fied" Jesus presented in the church today. Many Christians desire to follow a Christ who is tough and commanding. However, in our efforts to make Jesus more masculine we have created a Christ with whom no one but white, American, middle-class males can relate.
Those who call for a masculine, street-fighter Christ, fail to carefully read Scripture and lose sight of the importance of Jesus' unique identity. When we take Jesus out of his particular, historical context, we diminish the significance of Jesus' humanity—and we alienate women and divide the church.
The church’s ideal of a tough-guy Jesus is anything but congruent with the Jesus we find in the Gospels. Christ was the suffering servant who consciously rejected opportunities to gain power and exercise dominance over others. Christ subjected himself to death.
In the midst of our increasingly globalized world, we struggle to define and uphold our unique identities. In our efforts to make our lives meaningful and relevant, we desire a Jesus with whom we can relate, and a Christ who is universal. As Christians, we should, however, avoid making Jesus in our own image, with characteristics that appeal to us. We ought, rather, to look to Scripture to find an accurate picture of the Jesus who can save us.
Jesus was born a first century Jewish male. His specificity as such, is the very thing which makes him relevant and meaningful for our lives. In order to save us, Jesus became fully human. Part of what it means to be human is to be a unique individual in a particular time, with a particular geographical location, family, gender, etc. If Jesus had not been unique and specific in these ways, he would not have been fully human—and if Jesus had not been fully human, he could not save us. Thus, what is important about Jesus' humanity for our salvation is not that Jesus was a certain gender or race, but that he was, in fact, fully human. Jesus redeems me, a white, American, female, not because he was like me in every way, but because he was identical to me at the level of our humanity. "Humanity" is common of all races and genders. Our ability to bear the image of God is not dependent upon characteristics such as race, gender, or social status.
Thus, only in his full, specific, humanity as a first century Jewish male is Jesus the divine universal savior. We must not be scandalized or put off by the fact that Jesus looked different from our (or our grandma's) pictures of him, nor that he lived in a world which was vastly different from our own—because Jesus was like us in the most important way. He was fully and truly human.
Jesus was not a "chick-a-fied" sissy boy. Jesus was not a street-fighter. He was not a woman, and he was not a white, American male in the twenty-first century. Jesus was born a first century Jewish man, fully human, and fully divine—the son of God. He is savior of all men and women—of every age and location. Jesus need not be construed as anything other than the particular man that he was in order to redeem us.
Don't forget to check out Part 1 of this series as well.