The Lord. The Savior. The Redeemer of Man. He goes by many titles. When people hit their thumbs with a hammer they use his name. He’s been used as an icon for every cause known to man, from animal rights to presidential politics.
His name? Jesus Christ.
To say that Jesus cuts a traditional Christ figure is to belabor the obvious. He stands 6’1”, with a Middle Eastern face framed by long, brown hair. Robert Powell he isn’t. He would be right at home with the other rough and tumble characters that make up the Israeli landscape.
I met Jesus at a small coffee shop on the west side of Cleveland. Some of the topics we covered included his death, his relationship with Judas Iscariot, and his feelings about the people who claim his name today.
Rolling Stone: I guess I should start by asking you what you preferred to be called- Jesus? Christ?
Jesus Christ: Jesus will be fine.
RS: Jesus, for the past several years you have been one of the nation’s most recognizable political figures, in addition to people who recognize you solely for your religious significance.
JC: (puts his hands in front of him and shakes his head)
Hey, don’t blame that on me! (The group at the table laughs)
RS: So you don’t approve of those who use you to gain percentage points in the polls?
JC: The words I used in Israel were, “The person who believes on me will have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” There’s nothing in that sentence that says anything about giving them the Supreme Court justice that they want. The person who trusts in me to give them eternal life has every right to be involved in the political process, even to seek the highest office in the land in which they dwell. But to imply that because I love them and died for them I approve of their political aspirations? Sorry, go back and read my words again- “My kingdom is not of this world.”
RS: You aren’t telling people out there to sit on the steps of abortion clinics or wear orange tape over their mouths with the acronym L.I.F.E. on it?
JC: (smiling slyly)
That’s for me to know and you to find out. (He takes a sip of coffee)
In most cases, I don’t micromanage people’s lives like that. If you want to stand in front of an abortion clinic with a sign, fine. If you need a gimmick like the orange tape, more power to you. Just don’t tell people that I made you do it. Especially if you are going to ignore my weightier commands in the process.
JC: Take your war in Iraq, for instance. George Bush claimed my guidance in reaching the decision to go to war, but how does that square with my command to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you? When a person dies, whatever their nationality may be, that’s hardly an occasion to rejoice. When a bunch of them die, you had better be sure that your cause is just. And in this case, I don’t think it was.
RS: I thought that you weren’t taking sides?
(Jesus just stares straight ahead and smiles.)
RS: If I may quote you for a moment, you have said that “my sheep know my voice.” If you don’t micromanage people’s lives, what form does your voice take? How would the President have heard what he thought was your voice if, in fact, you weren’t giving him the guidance he’s claiming?
JC: My sheep hear my voice when I am calling them into the fold. I would expect grown adults to be able to choose their own socks in the morning or find a parking space without my intervention. (The waitress comes by, and Jesus asks for another cappuccino
.) I will admit to calling people to specific things, and occasionally putting an exclamation point at the end of the sentence by personally making my will known. But if I dictate a person’s daily schedule to them, I don’t have people who love me freely; I have robots.
RS: So what you’re saying is that nine times out of ten, people already know what your will is for them simply by the circumstances that surround them…
Well, it’s that, but it’s more. If someone has a desire to enter politics, for instance, and they have some obvious gifts in that area, then by all means they should go into politics. If they are good guitar players, they should consider using their talents instead of burying them. I’m the one that gave them said talents, and I am the one who planted certain desires in their hearts. I will make one caveat, however. I may have given someone the ability to play the guitar well; that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am going to make them a star. If someone has a writing talent, they may become the next John Grisham, and then again they may not. I may have given them certain talents to use in their local preschool. People have the tendency to try and baptize their ambitions, and assume that they are doing me service.
RS: So you expect people to use the wisdom you gave them, thereby reducing the number of tortillas that you have to appear on.
JC: (laughing heartily)
Oh, man, if I had a dollar for every time someone had a tortilla, or a grilled cheese sandwich, or a grain silo with an image of me or my mother on it, I would be a rich man.
RS: I’d like to back up for a minute, and talk with you about your early years. Two of the gospels mention the manner of your birth. By being born of a virgin, were you making a statement about sexual activity and carnal desire?
JC: Uhh, no… actually I was merely seeking a way to be born. (Laughs)
In order to be able to redeem mankind, and pay the price for their sin, I needed to live a life as they lived, sans the sin. Look at what the author of Hebrews says….
RS: Speaking of which, would you care to clear up for us once and for all the mystery of who wrote that book?
JC: If I haven’t said anything up until now, why do you think I would break my silence?
RS: OK, but it’s not like I’m asking you to appear in a tortilla or something. (The table breaks out in laughter.)
JC: (wiping tears from his eyes)
Ten thousand comedians out of work and you’re trying to be one. As I was saying, the writer of Hebrews said this:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
When I walked the earth in the early first century, I was not a zombie. I got hungry and thirsty; when I was tired I slept; when nature called I answered. When Satan tempted me in the desert it was not an exercise in futility. I possessed the ability to give in to those temptations. If I didn’t, how could they be considered temptations? By going through the process of human living, I became someone who could identify with the weaknesses of others. And by identifying with those weaknesses, I moved one step closer to helping people rise above them.
RS: How so?
JC: My whole life has been a series of steps moving towards a goal, that of redeeming mankind and reconciling them with my father. Part of that process involved living on this earth as a man, with everything that goes along with human living. The final step in a human’s life is death, and that’s the one that they could not overcome. But I did, and by doing so, and living within them, they are able to overcome the complexities of life and ultimately live forever.
RS: You just moved past three pages of my questions.
That’s one of the advantages of seeing the end from the beginning, I guess.
RS: You’ve explained why you needed to be born instead of just appearing, but you haven’t answered my question- why the need to be born of a virgin?
JC: I’m God’s son, not Joseph’s. I needed to be born of a woman because that’s how humans come into being. My father initiated the action because in order for my death to be a perfect sacrifice for the sins of humanity, my life needed an eternal quality. If I died as a human being at a specific point in history, the effects of my death would be limited in space and time. By being born as fully human and fully divine, my sacrifice became eternal.
RS: So there is something in the temporal process of human conception and birth that would have prevented you from paying for our sins? That sounds like you are looking askance at sexuality.
JC: I did create it, you know. If I thought that sex was something evil, something to be avoided, I would have made the process of conception less enjoyable and more utilitarian.
RS: So sex was meant to be enjoyable. Can I quote you on that?
RS: So how did your followers get the reputation for being cold fish?
JC: You’ll have to ask them. Listen- I wove experience into the fabric of life. I made roses to smell beautiful, I made anchovies salty, I made beets to taste foul. I created women to be beautiful, I created men to be visually appealing in a completely different way, and I created the orgasm. It’s not that hard to understand.
RS: Getting back to our discussion on your early years, the Gospels have nothing to say about your life from the age of 12 until around 30. Why is that?
JC: Not everything I did is written down. Ask John. “These things have been written so you may believe that He is the Christ, the son of God, and by believing you may have life in his name.” The Gospels were written on a need to know basis. What wasn’t necessary to be known didn’t get put in there.
RS: But would you care to clear up the mystery for our readers? A lot of people have been curious for a long time.
JC: (looking annoyed)
I was a carpenter. I didn’t go to Tibet, I didn’t make appearances to Indian tribes when my parents thought I was sleeping, and I didn’t write a book. I made tables, chairs, benches, and the like. Day after day it was all the same. If that had been written down the Gospels would have been 2,000 pages each.
RS: Is there anything wrong with curiosity?
JC: There is everything wrong with idle speculation.
Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels.” 2 Timothy 2:22-23, if anyone out there wants to look it up. Show me how many discussions about my “missing years” haven’t resulted in someone proclaiming that they alone have the ultimate revelation and everyone else is just screwed.
RS: But not every attempt to explain “the missing years” is an attempt to become king of the castle. It could be that someone in that pursuit of righteousness wants to know if there is something there that would benefit them in said pursuit.
JC: Most people are only interested in projecting on me what they wish I had said in those years. They have decided what they want to do, and they’re looking for some justification for it. If people would focus more on what I did say, rather than on what I might have said, they would get a lot farther.
RS: Let’s move on then. Your first recorded miracle is the turning of water into wine in Cana. This is considered to be the inauguration of your ministry. Fundamentalist followers of yours have yet to come to terms with the fact that this was indeed wine that you created, preferring to insist that it was really an extremely watered-down version of wine, or simply grape juice. My question is twofold: why a wedding reception, and was it really wine?
JC: Because, and yes. (smiles)
This actually reflects back on your prior question about sexuality and marriage. Blessing the party at the wedding in Cana with a premium vintage wine should tell you what I think about marriage, should it not? In reality, it does nothing of the sort. I could very well have chosen to multiply the eggs at breakfast the next morning. I could have multiplied the children of the family next door. I chose to turn the water into wine in order to manifest my glory. It was the time chosen by my father. And yes, it was real wine. Why else would the host have said, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” I doubt that watered-down grape juice would have been mistaken as premium vino.
RS: Jesus one, fundamentalists nothing.
JC: No, not really. There isn’t any kind of a competition here. If certain people want to abstain from wine, and by doing so believe that they are honoring me, then I bless that. If someone is enjoying wine with their meal, and want to bless their friends by laying out choice food and drink, I bless that too.
RS: So both sides are right.
JC: There are no “right” or “wrong” sides here. People who divide everyone into “sides” or “camps” are seeking their own glorification at the expense of another. The people who glory in their liberty are looking down upon the people who don’t share their convictions. The people who try to reign liberty in do the same thing. The end result isn’t a people who love me above all else, it’s a people who desire to climb to the top of a mountain which consists of another’s bones.
RS: Tell me the first thing that comes to your mind when I mention the following names. First up- Mary Magdalene.
JC: Beautiful woman.
JC: Great number in Superstar.
RS: Pontius Pilate.
JC: Listen to your wife next time.
RS: Simon Peter.
JC: Solid as a rock.
RS: Judas Iscariot.
JC: (Pauses a moment)
RS: Is Judas in heaven?
JC: Take the log out of your own eye first.
RS: Is Judas in heaven?
JC: I'm not saying.
RS: Why not?
JC: Do you think he's in heaven?
RS: I'm not really of a spiritual mindset, but I would think that a person's answer to that question would have something to do with how they view suicide.
JC: And so the question moves away from concern for a person's immortal soul, and instead becomes centered on an issue. Once that happens we have the problem I described before, where people are more concerned with being right than with mercy and grace. "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" Micah. Look it up.
RS: Is there anyone out there doing things right?
JC: My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.