What Was Jesus Like?
I often wonder what Jesus was like in person. The Gospels, compiled decades after his death and resurrection from oral traditions filtered through hundreds of retellings, only give us a sketchy (and often—let’s face it—pretty dry) picture. We can guess with what awe the people who witnessed his miracles viewed him. We can imagine the joy and gratitude felt by the man whose daughter was raised from the dead. We can read between the lines of Jesus’ conflicts with Pharisees and see them choking with rage. But the man himself? We know his philosophy, but not his personality.
Surely the human Jesus wasn’t the solemn, intense persona portrayed by most religious images. As Fr. John Kreuzer, CSsR, wrote in the February 1960 issue of Liguorian: “For although Christ was serious, He could not have been excessively so, or else the playful mites of humanity known as children would not have swarmed all over him.”
Many things change throughout the ages, but human nature does not. Humor attracts; holiness intensifies more with unselfconscious smiles than with finger-wagging pronouncements. Jesus must have been charismatic and energetic, speaking in the idioms and style of the time instead of some elevated, Shakespearean version of Aramaic. People must have laughed and cried when he spoke. They must have left his presence so inspired that they had to tell everyone they met. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been such a threat.
What does Christ’s presence inspire us to do? Our interaction is with the Eucharist, a gift we see as spiritual nourishment but not always as a call to action. I daresay that in many ways we find the Eucharist less challenging than a human Jesus who ate with sinners and took on the establishment. We don’t quite know what to do with Christ’s human nature. Somehow it seems sacrilegious to think of him as a man with a favorite color and foods he turned up his nose at. Does our focus on the divine Jesus take away from the challenge issued by the human Jesus to reflect God in our every action and thought?
By inhabiting our physical form, Jesus sanctified it. The incarnation reminds us that all we are and all we love as human beings are intrinsically good—eating, drinking, laughing, and loving as well as the more conventionally holy pursuits. When God created the world, he called it all good. Nothing in the human experience is not good; it’s our use of those experiences that can render them evil.
Our responsibility, then, is to live the range of human experiences in a way that affirms and reflects the design of the One who made them. ♦