Chapter OneWeek One
The Jesus I Thought I Knew
I first got acquainted with Jesus when I was a child, singing "Jesus Loves Me" in Sunday school, addressing bedtime prayers to "Dear Lord Jesus," watching Bible club teachers move cutout figures across a flannelgraph board. I associated Jesus with Kool-Aid and sugar cookies and gold stars for good attendance.
Later, while attending a Bible college, I encountered a different image. A painting popular in those days depicted Jesus, hands outstretched, suspended in a Dalm-like pose over the United Nations building in New York City. In 1971 the film The Gospel According to St. Matthew, by Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, again helped to force a disturbing revaluation of my image of Jesus. In Pasolini's portrayal, in physical appearance Jesus favored those who would have been kicked out of Bible college and rejected by most churches. Among his contemporaries, the Bible says he somehow gained a reputation as a "winebibber and a glutton." Those in authority, whether religious or political, regarded him as a troublemaker, a disturber of the peace.
I have studied Jesus extensively in Catholic, liberal Protestant, and conservative evangelical seminaries. For two years I taught a class on the life of Jesus, using a variety of movies about his life as a springboard for discussion. In all of my study, I learned that whenever I returned to the Gospels, the fog that accompanied an academic approach seemed to lift. The films about Jesus helped restore Jesus' humanity. Jesus, I found, was far less tame than the Jesus I had met in Sunday school and Bible college. He seemed more emotional than the average person, not less. More passionate, not less. How is it, then, that the church has tamed such a character?
I have not written a book about Jesus because he is a great man who changed history. I am drawn to Jesus, irresistibly, because he positioned himself as the dividing point of life-my life. He said, "I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God" (Luke 12:8). According to Jesus, what I think about him and how I respond will determine my destiny for all eternity. Can I resolve my own inner tension between doubter and lover?
Viewing Jesus on Film, Optional, 10 Minutes
Note: In the introduction to this guide, you will find information about how to use movies as a study aid in your weekly groups or classes. In addition, in the back of this guide I have included a section titled "Movie Appendix," which lists some of the movies I've used for my teaching purposes, summarized in order of their potential usefulness.
Consider using clips from the following films as an opening to your time together.
Oh, God!: At the twenty-five-minute mark, God, played by George Burns, answers some of the most troubling questions about him, with surprising answers.
Godspell: Begins with a buoyant "Prepare ye the way of the Lord" scene.
Jesus of Nazareth, tape 3: Jesus blasts the Pharisees, at the fifteen-minute mark. Also, five minutes after this scene, a member of the Sanhedrin debates who Jesus really is.
Heaven: See the segment "What Is God Like?" around the thirty-minute mark, but be sure to avoid the profanity. Also see a depiction of how Christians come across in the debate on "Can You Prove There's a Heaven?" around the fifty-three-minute mark. Jesus of Montreal: Confused, modern actor on quest for Jesus, at the ten-minute mark.
King of Kings I: Classic portrayal of "Jesus meek and mild" healing a little girl's Roman soldier doll (!) at the thirty-five-minute mark.
Seeing Jesus through Scripture
Read together the following passage: Mark 6:1-6
Looking at Jesus Within and Without, 25 Minutes
You may be studying in a small group (less than twelve people) or in a larger group. For this section, break into groups of four to six people. Introduce yourselves to one another and tell about your family. How many siblings do you have? Where did you grow up? Are you married? Do you have children?
1. What did the people in Jesus' hometown think of him?
Imagine your brother or cousin or friend suddenly beginning to teach, with no formal training, in the city's biggest church. Imagine this person performing miracles. What would you think? What would people say?
2. Have you had someone close to you who really didn't know or understand you? How did this make you feel? Share as you feel comfortable. Do you think Jesus felt something similar?
3. How did the lack of understanding by Jesus' own people affect his use of his power through miracles?
My friend isn't attending church, because she says Christians give Jesus a bad name. She claims the church could be the most powerful movement in the world if Christians would really get to know Jesus. What do you think of her opinion of Christians?
4. Do you think people today have any clearer picture of who Jesus is than did the people in his day? How do you think Jesus feels about the confusing portrait presented in today's church or by some individuals?
5. The vision of Christ that thou dost see Is my vision's greatest enemy: Thine has a great hook nose like to mine.... Both read the Bible day and night, But thou read'st black where I read white. William Blake
In your mind's eye, what did Jesus look like? Tall? Short? Handsome? Curly hair or straight? Dark- or light-complected? Where did you get this picture of him (films, paintings, books, Sunday school)? Can you describe specific images from the past?
6. I mention several images of Jesus from my past. Which of these do you identify with?
A Victorian nanny who pats the heads of children and advises kindness to mummy and daddy
An ever friendly Mister Rogers-kind, gentle, and soft-spoken
A Star Trek Vulcan-calm, cool, and collected among excitable human beings on spaceship earth
A cosmic Christ hovering over the United Nations building
A radical hippie concerned with politics and peace-making
A televangelist type-always spiritual, full of God-talk, and eager to prove his identity through miracles Other:
Who or what prompted this vision? Talk about the church or religious environment in which you grew up. Has your vision of Jesus changed much?
7. What scares you about coming to know the real Jesus?
8. With the help of Jesus and this group, what do you most want to understand about Jesus?
Do you have any prayer needs to share with the group?
No one who meets Jesus ever stays the same.
Being Seen by Jesus, 5-10 Minutes
This last section of each study will give you a few minutes to personally invite Jesus into your study. It will be a time of silence, giving you a chance to share with him your questions, your needs, your thanks. You may not be accustomed to sharing quiet time together, but give it a try. This is a time to sit in the presence of Jesus as a corporate body and receive from him in a personal way. As you become comfortable, you'll find it a rich experience. Spend the time today in quiet, individual prayer. Feel free to add to the following prayer in the space provided. You may choose to keep a journal throughout the study. Bring it to class and use it during this time, to write your prayers, record your thoughts, or make notes on the discussion.
Dear Jesus, I am setting out on a journey that will bring me to a place of clearer vision, a place where I can better see you. A part of me wants only to close my eyes and stay where I am. But a part of me needs to know you better, needs to gaze on nothing but you. Enter the eyes of my mind, my heart. Help me along....
Further Glimpses of Jesus
Look for art in your home that portrays Jesus. Bring some to class next week, including wall hangings, necklaces, pocket cards, and pictures in books.
Look for old Christmas cards. Bring what you find to class next week.
Gazing on Jesus This Week, Optional
You can integrate this study into your life throughout the week by using the following Scripture passages and book excerpt in your quiet moments. Reflect on these readings as your time allows. Day 1: Isaiah 8:13-15; 9:1-7 Day 2: Matthew 1:18-2:23 Day 3: Mark 10:13-16; Luke 13:10-17 Day 4: Luke 11:37-54 Day 5: Luke 15:1-7
The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore-on the contrary; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him "meek and mild," and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew Him, however, He in no way suggested a milk-and-water person; they objected to Him as a dangerous firebrand. True, He was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before Heaven; but He insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites; He referred to King Herod as "that fox"; He went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a "gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners"; He assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the Temple; He drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations; He cured diseases by any means that came handy, with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people's pigs and property; He showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, He displayed a paradoxical humour that affronted serious-minded people, and He retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb. He was emphatically not a dull man in His human lifetime, and if He was God, there can be nothing dull about God either. But He had "a daily beauty in His life that made us ugly," and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without Him. So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness.