What is your favourite image of Jesus?
In the 1960s someone did a portrait called the laughing Jesus which I kind of like… The only problem being I cannot get over the fact that he sort of looks like a white hippy from the 1960s. The is Leonardo's version from the last supper, Rembrandt has famous paintings, we have probably seen a movie or two with Jesus in them…
But there are other possibilities. We have made him pretty much like us over the years. What if Jesus was black? What if he was Arabic? What if he was fat? What if he shaved? None of us really knows….
But how we picture something really does affect how we think about it. The picture in our mind affects our beliefs. If you do not believe me go home and google the Korek mountain ski resort in Iraq – tell me if it does not totally blow your conception of what Iraq is like out of the water.
So here is Paul describing Jesus to the church in Colossae. I wish just once he would have acted like a modern novelist and said, “then Jesus turned his green eyes towards the crowd, brushed back his Chestnut hair from in front of his eyes and said…” But Paul never so much as gives a glimmer of the physical Jesus…. Here is what he says in Colossians 1:15-20
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers--all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
With the Kids
Close your eyes…. No seriously, humour me a second and close your eyes. Now. I am going to say a word and I want you to think of the first image that comes to mind. I’ll do a practice one first… everyone ready…. Doctor. If you are like me, you probably pictured a guy in a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck…. Or something close.
Ok, keep your eyes closed or close them again… Ready for another one? I would like you to think of an image of… God.
Ok, open your eyes… What did you think of? I mean, I did do it this way because I was trying to get at the emotional brain. Not when you reason it out, not when you think about it, but spur of the moment what comes to mind. I always find it weird that for me it is the old white guy in the clouds with the white robe.
Don't get me wrong, that is not what I think God is. It is just the first thing that comes to mind when I try to think of God. So seriously, some people think of other things, but it is hard to find an image to capture God.
So I want to read you another story – one you are probably familiar with. It is about a visit of Jesus to Mary and Martha… Now, normally we hear this story and think about the two women, who is Mary, who is Martha… But I want you to listen today from another angle… Who is Jesus? What does this story say about Jesus personality and character? What do we learn about him?
Luke 10: 38-42
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.
She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."
Engaging the Text
One of the things I really thought was funny in the art world came about when I learned about the medieval and renaissance religious painting movement. You know, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci and the boys… there was a period when they all began painting religious scenes. Maybe because churches would actually pay them for their art…
Now, here is the thing that blew me away. When they painted they usually sat down in front of something and painted it. People posed for portraits, or they went into the countryside and painted the landscape.
The thing is, they had to make up what they thought Jesus and the disciples looked like – which is fair enough – but what they did not make up was the background. And so we have paintings of Jesus knocking at the door of a house in Venice. Or Jesus preaching from a mountain just outside of Paris. Even the last supper takes place in an Italian living room.
But that is what we came to believe the Jerusalem of Jesus day looked like… it forever coloured how we saw things.
The same is true for me of the Charlton Heston movie The Ten Commandments. I have in my head what ancient Egypt, Israel, and even Moses looked like because I always picture that movie….
I guess the thing I am trying to say is that our mental pictures can have a profound impact on the way that we see and understand the world. They influence the value and importance that we place on certain people, activities, and things.
If God, and Jesus, basically look like me and behave like me… then that means I am made in the image of God, right? And if I dress in the white linen robe and put a rope around my waste, it gives me even more authority, right?
Just like if I put on a white coat, draped a stethoscope around my neck and walked into your room in the hospital and told you to start drinking more tomato juice in order to make you better… would you question me?
No, because we have a mental image and when things fit that image we are content.
It is always a problem when they do not fit though, isn’t it? When I was in Whitehorse I went to the emergency department in the hospital and the doctor on call was a 20-year-old surfer from France. He had blond spiky beach hair and a great tan. And it was honestly hard to imagine he was a doctor.
You have probably had that happen… like getting pulled over by an RCMP officer who seems to be a little shy kid….
And the religious writers of the ancient church only made this worse.
Paul’s letter invites us to picture Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” and as “the head of the body, the church.” Well, think about it. How does our own mental image of Jesus affect the way we see God and the church? Clearly, it did. God is really just a grown old Jesus in most of the images, right. And certainly a man with a beard…. Not a woman, not black, certainly not a Mediterranean Jew.
It is something to think about, isn’t it? How does our image of Jesus, our image of God, affect how we see others? How does it impact our understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus right here in Marysville or Penniac? How does it shape our ministry?
Because trust me it does… even the stories we tell affect us. I read the story of Mary and Martha to you…. How has this affected us over the years? I know I was always told, by my grandparents and preachers that Mary was the one who was doing what God wanted. That we should sit and listen. That being faithful means basically to listen and pay attention to the words of Jesus…
Never mind that Martha was the one actually doing the work of hospitality and caring for the people around her.
But God forbid that we are “worried and distracted by many things” like that old Martha…