(If you are more offended than intrigued by the title, you should skip this post… and probably avoid this blog. See my views on the ethics of profanity.)
For centuries now we’ve lived with an image of Jesus that is, well, a little bit on the weak side. He is gentle, soft, and very white. Were it not for the obvious beard, we might question whether or not he has any, er, well, you know….
Now there is an alternative vision of Jesus. We don’t see it depicted visually much, other than in left-wing cartoons. Why? Because this right-wing all-American Jesus would look so zany.
(see original context)
No one really believes in this machine-gun-wielding Savior… but some of us talk as if we did. Too often I hear preachers and believers saying that the Kingdom of God = the United States of America + the State of Israel.
Then there’s easy-going “Buddy Jesus” from Dogma.
And the even more chill Homeboy Jesus (who is even friends with Ashton Kutcher???)
But what is the Bible’s image of Jesus? His inner character, if not his physical appearance? There are aspects of “weak Jesus” (picture 1, above) that are in the Bible: he is Prince of Peace, the Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God. He preaches love of God and love of each other. There are aspects of the Buddy/Homeboy Jesus, too, which are true to the Bible: Friend of Sinners. But Buddy looks more like Big Man on Campus than Lord and Savior.
Jesus is one complicated dude. He is the Man of Sorrows, which we don’t often see, except in very old paintings. He sweated blood and thought that he was going to die from the weight of sorrow that was on him. Makes my depression look like Disneyland!
And he is the Lion of Judah. He will come and conquer as a king. That covers some of the aspects of him that we see in the Bible. But I can only think of one word nuanced and strong enough to describes the missing piece in pop-culture’s picture of Jesus:
bad-ass (adj.): 1)touchy, difficult; 2) mean, belligerent; 3) tough, intimidating; 4) rugged, strong; 5) unequivocally awesome.
Jesus is not touchy or difficult. He is never mean or belligerent (although G.I. Jesus, picture 2, above, might make us think otherwise). But he can be tough and intimidating. He had sharper come-backs than Madea and wasn’t afraid to over-turn tables in the name of God. He was rugged and strong enough to work for thirty years in a carpenter’s shop, live with sailors (the truckers of the ancient Near East) for three years on the road as their leader, and then carry on a conversation or two while crucified. He bore the sins of the world. What could be more unequivocally awesome than that? He brought love and mercy the fist time, but gave us a heads up: he will be back to enforce final justice.
Jesus was a rebel, a challenger of the status quo. Either in his Whiteness, his Buddyness, or meekness, he has become the opposite in the eyes of many. Churches have become part of the Establishment and, historically, have participated in much oppression. But Jesus was the liberator of the oppressed, so much so that “Liberation theologians” have emphasized that aspect of Jesus to the point of painting him as a proto-Marxist.
Because our images of Jesus have been constructed by the cultural majority, we have seen a reaction against that, even independent of Rastafarianism.
Whatever else you might say about Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” I hope we can agree that his Jesus (Jim Caviezel) finally looks Jewish.
In some Greek icons I see a look that captures his baaaadness. Very man, very God, very ready to do whatever it takes to save His own.
Across the centuries he calls, his vigor undiminished by the incompetence of his followers, myself included. The Son of Man demands as much now as he did back then: either to be followed and worshipped, or else to be utterly rejected. That I cannot so much as prove his existence highlights the intensity of this choice, the leap that is faith. Ignoring him is not an option. He leaves us no middle ground. What could be more bad-ass than that?