Does this picture of Jesus offend you?
What is it about it you don’t like? Is it because He is wearing a T-Shirt? Because you prefer Dutch Bros and he has a Starbucks-looking cup? Is it the iPhone-looking phone? Maybe it is the flags in the background or the hipster glasses. I wonder if it is the cigarette.
The image is polarizing for a variety of reasons. Notably, it takes something precious to people, the object of their faith, and puts it in a light they may be uncomfortable with. It takes something sacred and makes it less precious. I get it. Does this look like the guy who died for you? Do you imagine the one who exhorted his followers toward love and forgiveness looks like this? Did the man who carefully handled the woman caught in adultery possibly have such cultural immersion? Is it possible the Son of God, the Man/God Jesus looked anything like this? You may be answering “No Way!”
If not, what did he look like? It’s effortless to say Jesus didn’t have an iPhone. Cell coverage in ancient Palestine was terrible and completely unreliable. Plus, he never had time for a selfie or social media. There wasn’t a Starbucks on every corner, so Jesus would never have coffee (although the Jews in Ethiopia most likely did later). If Jesus did drink coffee, he would never choose Starbucks. Don’t you know they support the “Liberal Agenda?” He would only drink responsibly sourced coffee from Christians that grew the coffee beans on holy ground, most likely a non-denomination Church, community garden plot, because Jesus is like that.
The flags are off-putting. Those are the Republican and Democratic symbols on one flag. We all know they would never be together. Jesus obviously sides with the Republican ‘agenda’ of Pro-life, pro-gun, pro big business. That is simply Americana in general and doesn’t he bless this country? So, if we are a big deal, it is because Jesus loves America.
I know it is incredibly offensive, isn’t it? We all know Jesus was a Socialist. He would want to preserve the sacredness of women and their bodies, never wanting the government to tell one of his precious ones, what to do with them. Jesus would certainly support policies that help those less fortunate or those who are victims of racism, systemic injustices, and the voiceless. He was the embodiment of non-violent resistance. Supporting the gun lobby makes no sense. There is no way Jesus would have been Republican.
The American flag is what Jesus stands for. Truth, Justice, and the American way. * If you read Revelation, it is clear that the Eagle is a symbol for America. In the end, Jesus loves and helps us. We are a Christian Nation, so it is obvious we are Jesus’s favorite.
I know what you are thinking, you think I am hilarious, and you are glad you read this article. You may also be thinking about that darned cigarette. What brand is it? Jesus was particular about his tobacco. If that isn't the right brand, it couldn't be true. All kidding aside, If you have a hard time with Jesus smoking, you are not alone. Here are some of the other things I have heard around this image.
“Jesus wouldn’t have a cigarette!”
“Jesus is Holy. This isn’t.”
“Jesus is my savior. This isn’t Him!”
An Amazon reviewer called it “Repulsive” (but gave the book a five-star rating). During a radio interview, the host called the image “troubling.”
I agree. It is a troubling image. It causes us to pause and wonder what is happening. Is that image making fun of Jesus? Is the artist (in this case, the author) trying to mock Christians? What is the point? Why would you make something so precious and meaningful so ordinary and unimpressive?
Honestly, the responses to the image speak volumes about whom we believe Jesus to be but talk far more to the hidden, deeply problematic issues we have as Christians.
Not once, in all the conversations, podcasts, and interviews, has someone asked why Jesus was white.
Let that sink in. NOT ONCE.
The assumption is that Jesus WAS white. Of course. Why not? He was American, and that means Northern European or from Great Britain. His hair couldn’t have been curly or black. It was blonde and full of that just-washed wavy beauty. His skin wasn't an oriental, olive color. Ancient Jews didn’t look like THAT!
This presumption is entirely out of bounds and shows why we have to check our assumptions. It shows us how far we are willing to go in creating Jesus in our image. Jesus wasn’t white, and no one seems to think it matters. However, it does.
When cultural assumptions flow, so does ignorance. Assuming Jesus looked like ‘us’ means Jesus thought and acted like us. I certainly don’t pretend to think and act like Jesus. I hope you don’t either. Maybe Mother Theresa was close, but not me. We judge by appearances, and when someone looks like us, we feel good about them and innately trust them. Don’t believe me? Think about your socio-economic-racial class. Are you a married, 30 yr old, white mom of 2 kids, a dog, upper-middle-class-minivan-driving, church-going, yoga pant wearing-soy latte-light-foam-drinking person? Do you innately trust others who loosely fit that description? Do you innately trust someone of color (pick one) who drives a beat-up car, wears shabby clothing, speaks a different language (maybe Arabic?) and doesn’t drink coffee? This analogy is a stretch, but you get my point.
To be fair, I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like coffee, so maybe I'm making my point. When Jesus is made in our image, he is more natural to love and trust. However, when ignorance leads the way, the message of the Gospel gets distorted and co-opted in cultural arguments, political agendas, and divisiveness. We can’t afford to allow ignorance to lead the way. Our world is at odds with one another and too often, Christians are part of the divisive diatribe.
It is ok to be offended by an image of Jesus. Ask yourself, “Why?” What is it about a picture that provokes you? Then ask a more profound question. What assumptions about Jesus does this reveal? How can I check those assumptions? As the saying goes, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
Did I mention Jesus has blue eyes?
*Truth, Justice, and the American Way was Superman. Not Jesus.