What Does Jesus Look Like?
A Biblical Interpretation
What does Jesus look like?
An Interpretation of the Parable
What does Jesus look like? Does he have a Hollywood smile? Would he impress people with his charm? The images above offer a clue. So does the parable of the sheep and goats. From the parable we learn:
1. Jesus looks like people who are poor and powerless, lonely and despised, forgotten and forsaken. He is not in the sky; he is in the vulnerable.
2. If we want to follow him, we don't need to have the right theology, whatever that is; what matters more is what we do.
3. From God's perspective the true "successes" in life are not those who make money or hold high positions; they are those who visit people in prison and feed the poor.
This is not a comforting parable for many of us in consumer society. Prompted by the values of the marketplace, we have given ourselves to "the pursuit of happiness" according to the American Dream. Our lives are often centered around being attractive, having money, being recognized by others, and enjoying fancy vacations. These are our gods.
The parable tells us that the real God -- the only one who can save us -- measures life by a very different yardstick. Did we feed the hungry? Did we clothe the naked? Did we visit people in prison? It says that we find the real God -- the one whom Jesus tried serve -- by following Jesus in the path of service to others.
Some among us pray in the name of Jesus. We do so as Christians and also as people of other paths who find value in his name. We say that there is power in his name. The power of his name is not magical. It is the power of a name which evokes in us shift in perspective: a reversal of self-absorbed and middle-class ways of looking at the world. An option for kindness, for compassion. Our prayers are in vain if we do not do not respond practically, in serviceable ways, to the commands of the savior we revere.
Will we go to hell if we don't? I don't know. For my part, I can't quite believe in everlasting punishment. Buddhist traditions invite us to recognize that life is a continuing journey which extends even beyond death. There may be hells after death, say the Buddhists, but they are purgative not permanent. This seems more plausible to me, but I may be wrong.
I can't believe that we humans must be motivated by fear of hells, purgative or otherwise. I may be wrong here, too. It is certainly possible that some good things in life come, not from a love of goodness, but from a fear of punishment.
But if all of this progressive thinking functions to anaesthetize me from the priorities of Jesus and the life of discipleship, then progressive thinking is but an opiate, a drug, an excuse for hiding from responsibility.
Jesus' parable is a kick in the pants. We are told to leave the comforts of luxury and find Jesus in vulnerable people; and, so we rightly add, in the eyes of animals cruelly treated; and in landscapes of a beautiful but now vulnerable earth. In the love, in the wonder, in the justice, in the compassion -- is our salvation.
Matthew 25: 31-46
The Parable of the Sheep and Goats
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” *
Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
* "Members of my family." Some might interpret this saying to mean other followers of the Jesus path. I interpret it to mean all who are vulnerable, anywhere in the world. The people in these photos are members of Jesus' family - quite apart from questions of religious affiliation, political allegiance, or ethnic heritage.