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LTJ #6: He Was One of Us

Coming home tonight, I reached for the case of CDs I tote around in my car.  I'd tired of Springsteen, the B-52s, and Stephen Stills and was glad to pick new tunes.  The CD I popped in was a compilation of songs by Chris Rice, a contemporary Christian folk artist and songwriter.  In light of the recent birth of Connor, our next godchild, and still awaiting news of the birth of “noodle” to other dear friends, I skipped forward to the song, “Welcome to Our World”.  It’s a lovely song about meeting Jesus at his birth.


As I consider this reflection for class, that song plays again and again in my head.  Seeking ideas of what to write on, I flipped through notes I'd taken in the Life & Teachings of Jesus class.  I came across a question I noted from very early on.  It had been the second class of the new semester and somebody asked, 'how could anyone could really know the height and weight of Christ?'  She was already reading our assigned text, a Marcus Borg book titled Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary.  Intrigued by her question, we all quickly turned in Borg’s book [pg. 44] to see he had offered a generic, but somewhat specific image of how Jesus appeared to his followers:


     Before his death, they knew him as a finite and mortal human being.  He was a Flesh-and-blood,
      corpuscular and protoplasmic Galilean Jew; he weighed around 
110 pounds and was a bit over
      five feet tall; he had to eat and sleep; he was born 
and he died.”


Hmmm. I guess Ted Neeley is the perfect choice to play the Lord in “Jesus Christ Superstar”!  He was JCS in Norman Jewison’s eccentric 1973 film, and still continues to this day to perform JCS on stage.  That's kinda weird when you consider Neeley is now 65, and almost twice as old as Jesus at the time of his crucifixion.


Back to my notebook, I recall our brief discussion about ethnographic studies completed about the racial type of Christ since he was a First Century Jewish man.  Obviously nothing close to the idealized Jesus we all may know or imagine: blonde hair, blue eyes, Caucasian; otherwise known as “the beautiful Jesus” of Western Europe.  Yes, we do see Jesus “like us”.  Okay. Sorry.  now I’ve got Joan Osborne in my head singing "One of Us”.  Come on, you know it. “What if God was one of us?  Just a slob like one of us?  Just a stranger on the bus, trying to go home.”


Okay, now I'm spinning in my chair, trying to clear my head, when my eyes fixate on a book in my study.  It is He Was One of Us: the Life of Jesus of Nazareth by Rien Poortvliet.  This is a lovely book with sparse text for effect to accompany each sketch of characters while telling the story of Jesus.  I find myself reaching for it to remember again how this Dutch artist chose to represent the Christ.  After opening to the first pages depicting almost haunting and stark images of Mary and Joseph, we are quickly underway.


The first glimpse of the infant finds Jesus in the arms of Simeon as the elder prophetess Anna admires him up close.  He is 40 days old, and the parent have brought him to the temple to be presented to the Lord.  Jesus is just a baby with a full head of dark hair.  And it is NOT blonde.


Then there's a collage of Jesus as a toddler.  Dark-skinned, playful, happy, sad, and sleeping.  He pretty much looks like most children I have known.  He suckles his mother’s breast, sits with his father at a workbench, plays with a dog or his friends, and later explores the trade of a carpenter.  See there, that cheery lad smiling at the lathe.  Again, Jesus seems pretty ordinary to me.  He was one of us.


Next, Jesus is waist-deep in the River Jordan as his cousin John prepares to baptize him.  He has grown into a man with longer hair and a full beard and moustache.  Perhaps not as slight as Borg described or Neeley represents, but he is very much a man.  A human man.  Yes, Jesus was one of us.


After enduring the temptations in the wilderness, Jesus starts calling those he needs and wants.  Soon there is a gathering on a mount, with one standing as others sit and look to him.  Christ is teaching.  Then he visits the infirmed, quiets storms, drives out demons, heals the lame, fellowships with sinners over meals, and raises the dead.  In all these images, we see what Jesus would have seen, not how Jesus was seen.


The next image of Jesus, at least I think it is Jesus, but maybe it is Peter.  Among the words on the page is 'Satan'.  Now, those piercing eyes and the pointing gesture tells me this is Jesus.  I have seen this face before.  Yes, he was one of us.


When I find the images of Jesus “casting commerce from the temple”, he is kicking over tables and tossing coin about.  But the face of Jesus on the left hand of the page almost scares me because it reminds me of that crazy Charles Manson.  Missing is the swastika Manson carved into his forehead, but those eyes – Yes, I’ve seen those eyes before.  If that is Jesus, he was one of us.


The same picture I imagined was Jesus admonishing Peter as Satan speaks through him comes about again as Peter denies Christ.  There is that same forward lean, intent gaze and pointing finger.  “I tell you the truth, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times”.  I would never want to face Jesus this way.  And yet I'm sure I have.  He was one of us.


The next images show his hands, his feet, and only the back of his head until he has been tried and handed over.  Then there is the stripping, the beatings, the scourging, the robe and crown of thorns and more beatings.  The cross he bears is probably not accurately depicted because it shows the full cross.  Previousl discussions informed me the Romans were very efficient, and that crucifixion was common.  Jesus would have carried only the cross piece.  The upright standard awaited him at Golgotha.


Then there is the agony in his face as nails pierce his hands and feet.  A harrowing look of desperation stares back at me as he slowly expires on the cross.  The end cannot come fast enough to spare him of this pain he bore for all of us.  Us.  We were there watching.  He is there dying for us.  Yes, Jesus was one of us.  And after he died, Jesus was quickly lowered from the cross and placed in a tomb hewn out of rock.  The Sabbath approached and his family and friends had to hurry to bury him.  There is no time to properly prepare his body.  It must be done.  Now.


He was one of us.  And the last few images are of the Jesus we hoped for, but never expected.  He Is Risen!  He came to the hiding disciples, appearing in rooms behind locked doors.  “Peace be with you”, he says.  The resurrected Lord showed them marks in his hands and feet, and invited Thomas to place his hand where the spear had pierced his side.  Finally, they all stand together in a field outside Bethany.  Jesus blesses them, and then He is gone.


It serves no purpose to imagine what Jesus looked like.  For if we only looked for that, we miss the important stuff.  We should reflect upon who He was, why He came, what He taught, and most importantly, what He accomplished.  Jesus did live.  With us.  He was here.  With us.  Jesus was, and is, and ever will be the One who comes.  But first, he was one of us.  Thanks be to God!


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 6th, 2008 01:48 am (UTC)
Are your fingers cramped up after writing that book?
Dec. 9th, 2008 03:59 am (UTC)
Indeed He was one of us
It still amazes me how He came to earth and humbled Himself to be like one of us. Fragile and weak. I tried to understand why He did come and why He had to die such a brutal death and it was then that God in His wonderful Grace revealed a little part of His Heart to me and I wrote the book ‘The Bible: Behind the Scenes.’ The book in itself was a revelation to me and a blessing. I understood so many things I didn't understand before. And it is so wonderful to see the concepts that were revealed to me, discussed in your teaching today. God bless!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )