Thursday, September 27, 2012

Christocentric Spirituality: Jesus is not a Nose of Wax

        Do not be deceived.  While we must look to Christ as the model for our spirituality rather than imitating the world in reverse, it is not enough simply to look to Christ.  We must be sure that when we look at Him we actually see Him as He is.  Too often our Bible study degenerates into an exercise in narcissism.   Looking into the gospels becomes something like looking into a well:  all we see is our own mirrored image.  Jesus has become a nose of wax in our hands, and rather than conforming ourselves to his character, we conform Him to ours.  We seem to act as if, because God made us in his image, we can return the favor.
       Perhaps you have noticed how Christ is made to look like the one doing the preaching, the teaching, or the writing, at the moment.  In the hands of Thomas à Kempis, for example, Christ is reduced to little more, and little else, than a medieval monk -- as if Jesus really was a mystic, a monastic, and a nominalist.  But, of course, Jesus is not simply a glorified version of Francis of Assisi or Bernard of Clairvaux.  He's not a monk's monk.
       And He's not a Protestant.
       Not only do we make him a Protestant, but in our hands the Creator also has become an American evangelical dispensationalist from the Bible Belt, one who snatches his children from the clutches of an evil public school system because he is harassed and haunted by the bogey of secular humanism.  Naturally, non-fundamentalists are offended by such obscurantistic clap-trap.   Jesus doesn't look like that any more than He looks like the abbot of the monastery at Monte Cassino.  He's not the prototype of John Chrysostom, of Innocent III, or of Che Guevara.  That is, He's not Eastern Orthodox; He's not Roman Catholic; and He's no model for liberation theology.  And, distressing as it may be to some, He's not the Calvin before Calvin or the Arminius before Arminius.  He's the Son of God.  Regardless of how strenuously we might try to make Him one of us, we will be frustrated.  His unique combination of divinity and sinless humanity transcends easy categorization.  Trying to cram Jesus into our own ecclesiastical moulds is no simple task.  It is like stuffing ten pounds of potatoes into a five-pound bag -- either the bag bursts or something gets left out.
       Nevertheless, people try.  Their attempts to make Jesus conform to their expectations (rather than shaping themselves to meet his) are a thinly veiled exercise in self-justification.  We all tend to read our own theological and ecclesiastical biases back into the Bible.  Rather than being confronted there by Something solid and resilient, Something other than ourselves, we assume the role of modern John the Baptists: we re-baptize Jesus into the modern Presbyterian, Coptic, Mormon, Baptist, or Russian Orthodox fold.  It simply won't do, of course.  The important thing in Christocentric spirituality is not what we can make of Him, but what He has made of Himself and intends to make of us.
       We must strenuously resist the temptation to rearrange the Savior.  Christ, even to Christians, seems a little too shocking.  We are forced (we think) to play the iconoclast and to knock down (or touch up) the image of the divine character He has left us.  But the true sanctity of Jesus is not often like the sanctity of those traditionally called saints.  He was holy, but He had no halo.  His purity was a blood-and-guts affair that held together, in the grip of his two strong hands, a holy God and a fallen world.  That union would not be broken, not even over his dead body.  In other words, his brow is no place for our tinsel crowns.  His head will not support the paper hats and paint-by-the-numbers halos of our misdirected and self-glorifying piety.  So much the worse for halos.  We need the real Jesus, not one of our own making.    What good is a potter shaped by clay?

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