Following Jesus – The One Who Is – Or the One We Want Him to Be

I attended a retreat recently where we were asked to think of ways that we have re-touched Jesus. When I saw the title of the talk, I immediately thought of the need to get close to Jesus, like the woman who thought if she could just touch his garment, she would be healed. But that was not the question. Instead, we were asked to reflect on the ways that each of us have, like an artist retouching a painting, retouched the Jesus revealed in scripture, to one more to our liking. Were we looking at the Jesus who is, or the one that we want him to be?

When I am honest with myself, I want a Jesus who thinks like me and agrees with me. I want one who understands when I don’t quite live up to Jesus’s value system. I want a Jesus who shares my political views and values. I want a Jesus who gets upset with the people I get upset with and who gets mad at the politicians I get mad at. I want a Jesus who agrees with me on all social issues and not just some. I want a Jesus who resembles me.

A few years back some prominent evangelical church leaders began to call themselves, “Red Letter Christians.” A reference to the way some Bible publishers print the words of Jesus in red. These leaders committed themselves to take seriously the words of Jesus in their day to day life. Focusing on the red letters, makes it more difficult to ignore what Jesus really has to say about being givers of grace, compassion, generosity of spirit and sharing our wealth. The red letters reveal the heart of God. They challenge on several levels. In Jesus’s words, love becomes an action, and not just a feeling. Personal morality is laced with mercy for others. The stones we’d throw at people we dislike, are pointed back at our own moral errors. Ignoring the poor and vulnerable – people who are homeless, hungry and strangers is among the “big sins” in the eyes of Jesus.

Following Jesus, being a disciple of Jesus demands from us more than our opinions and the biases or our childhood. It demands that we listen to him. When Jesus was revealed as God’s son, beloved and chosen, those who were with him heard the words, “Listen to him.” Modern followers of Jesus can do no less.