Scripture Reading: Mark 9:30-37 (NRSV)
What do you imagine Jesus to look like? Most of us will think back to paintings we have seen from our childhood. Jesus might be praying in the garden or carrying a sheep (although there isn’t any evidence that he was ever a shepherd). Some of us picture him standing at the door and knocking!
I don’t remember any pictures of him being clean-shaven (he was most likely bearded). He is also in fairly good shape in all of the portrayals. In some he might be thinner (which was also more likely for a peasant in that age and locale) but you never see him overweight. You may not have even imagined a larger Jesus but Matthew and Luke both agree that some called him a glutton in his day so I suppose it is possible.
In a class in seminary, I saw how Jesus was portrayed in art throughout the world. While he seems to be blond and blue-eyed in America, I have seen him as black, Asian or Native American. What any of these do is speak to the incarnational aspect of Jesus. Jesus is God-incarnate.
Jesus is someone we can simultaneously identify with and yet, gives us the best example of what our human potential holds.
This incarnational aspect is broadened by Jesus himself when he begins to identify with other categories. In the Judgment of the Nations in Matthew 25, Jesus connects his followers with the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned. We begin to see people in these conditions as in need of our help because who wouldn’t want to help Jesus?
Our ability to place God on the cross means that this incarnational ministry is willing to suffer rejection and violence. God is somehow present with us when we are suffering.
Today’s reading in Mark also has an incarnational aspect.
Children are identified with Jesus. It is important to note that we hold children in great regard in our culture today. This was not so in first century Palestine. It is a definite contrast for his disciples arguing over who was the greatest. Many would overlook a child because this association might actually lower your status in the eyes of the community. So when Jesus says that welcoming a child is the same as welcoming him, it is shocking. He might as well have dropped a rattlesnake in their midst when he presents to them a child. Okay, this last is an exaggeration but you get the point I’m trying to make!
I like the idea of serving Jesus in theory. I’m not sure I serve Jesus as concretely as he states that I am able. It is easy to let the homeless shuffle on by as I declare, “I’m saving this place at my table for Jesus!” How do we identify Jesus with the vulnerable? Isn’t solidarity with the outsider a part of the betrayal and death of which Jesus speaks in today’s reading? We are there some of the time but not all of the time. So what does the incarnation mean when we are on the inside?
We’ll continue to examine Mark’s Gospel in worship this Sunday. I hope you’ll join us if you are in the vicinity!
Check out more of Sam’s blog articles at www.precedinggrace.blogspot.com. Photo by catherine patacsil via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.