There seems to have been a bit of a trend in Christian circles over recent years. It’s an odd trend if I’m being honest, one that I can understand the roots of but which still seems a bit… I dunno, extreme? Wish fulfilment?
The trend is that of the badass Jesus.
See, there are those, mainly manly men, who are reacting against the stereotype of ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’. Jesus wasn’t like that, they say; he threw money lenders out of the Temple with a whip, he went toe-to-toe with authorities, he terrified the forces of evil. And yet here we are, living in a culture where you can buy pictures of Jesus looking like shiny blond hippy in a bedsheet.
This has therefore been replaced with another Jesus, a more masculine figure, one who looks like an outdoorsy carpenter. Someone you could imagine following to the Cross. Problem is, this can go too far and you end up with another straw man, this time Jesus as Chuck Norris, ready to roundhouse kick sinners in the face. Also, it seems to involve holding swords and quoting Braveheart a lot.
So which one is the true Jesus?
Well, look at Matthew 11:20-30. It starts off with the badass version – Jesus proclaiming woes and destruction on cities that had seen miracles but still rejected him. That’s the sort of Jesus some people like – you step out of line, you suffer the consequences. You’re saved only because of the Cross, and don’t you forget it.
But then it goes straight into “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
This is the gentle Jesus, the one who’ll help you and listen to you and share your burdens – a friend as opposed to a commanding officer.
Those verses pretty much sit next to each other in the Bible. Hmm.
Part of it is a wider crisis of masculinity within the church, I think – some of the words used, like ‘cissy’ point to something more than simply wanting to claim the tougher parts of Jesus’s ministry. After all, has anyone really seen Jesus as being weak? The guy walked a path that inevitably led to crucifixion, that’s not weakness by any stretch of the imagination. And gentleness and toughness aren’t mutually exclusive.
But here’s the thing – too often we try to put Jesus into a box. “He’s badass!” “No he’s not, he’s nice!” We want him to fit our preconceptions – if we want to wave swords around then we like a jesus who kicks butt; if we’re uncomfortable with that, we might prefer the Jesus who’d make a great babysitter. Neither of these are the whole story, of course, but they serve to make Jesus a comfortable figure.
And that’s the problem. These sort of things deny Jesus the complexity of even the average human being, let alone the one person who was both human and divine. I’m willing to bet even cage fighting champions smile at giggling babies, so why do we deny Jesus that complexity?
So yeah, Jesus was strong and tough. He got into (verbal) fights; he endured torture and nails through his hands.
And Jesus was gentle. He welcomed children, he cried publically when his friend died, he spoke kindly to outsiders.
He could hang out with former terrorists like Simon the Zealot; he also made his first resurrection appearance to a woman who was unlikely to have been believed when she ran home brimming over with the news.
And when talking about strength, Jesus wasn’t always big on the world’s strength – power is found in weakness, kingship in servanthood, an upside down kingdom of heaven. Who knows what badassery looks like in that sort of world?
When it comes down to it, Jesus is complicated. That’s my only real problem with the WWJD? trend from a few years back – What Would Jesus Do? Often it was the unexpected, because he doesn’t fit our stereotypes and preconceptions and agendas. When people asked him if he paid the Temple tax, he pulled the money out of a fish. I bet no-one saw that coming.
Jesus is tough. Jesus is gentle. Jesus is God, and Man, and, far from being a caricature, Jesus is complicated. To treat him as any less attempts to diminsh someone who is far too big to ever, ever hide in a box.