I quite understand why the Christian Church makes people feel uncomfortable. It isn’t just the history of intolerance, the hypocrisy of its members, or way its leaders behave – taking money from the simple-minded folk who fill its buildings every week. No, those things are disquieting enough, but they are nothing compared to the intolerable discomfort invoked by that man at the heart of it all.
Of course, we they try to hide him behind the rituals and traditions, the cheerful songs and the quaint little homilies. But there he is, just as he always was, right dab in the centre of it all: that man, Jesus.
He always did make people feel apprehensive. Never one to shy away from controversy, he championed the cause of people who were downright unpleasant: traitors and whores, thieves and beggars, the deformed and the defamed. His followers always were the great unwashed, the illiterate and the ignorant. At the same time, he seemed to have naught but contempt for the authorities of his day – the priests, the lawyers and the leaders in the land. A revolutionary in the eyes of the people, is it any wonder that they felt a little threatened by this strange subversive?
Strangely, they were even those among the elite who followed him, though. Not easy to pin down, this Jesus. Just as soon as you think you’ve got him clear, you find it isn’t quite that simple. Just as soon as you think you know him, he twists you round and makes you think again. And that doesn’t make him exactly easy to get on with, either.
Funny thing is, I can’t quite shake him off. The harder I’ve tried, in fact, the more he fascinates me. He grips me like quick sand. It bothers me that when I look at him I see the ugliness in myself. And it bothers me that when I look at him I see the man I’m supposed to be. And it bothers me that when he died, he did so at the hands of people who’re really aren’t that different from me despite the distances in time and space and culture.
So here I am, a Christian. Yes, a Christian. And like other Christians, I too can be intolerant and hypocritical. And you know what? When I go to Church I, too, find myself looking for the pay-off, for the edge that comes from being “religious”. Sure, I can give the impression of being a decent man at times, but you see I’m… well, really not so different from all those traitors and whores and thieves and all those other unpleasant folk that Jesus loved so well.
Which leads me to the thing that makes really ill at ease: the message that he forgives me. Just like that. No merit on my part has earned his forgiveness, nor has he been fooled into believing that I’m someone else. Jesus just forgives me – a man in the crowd, a nobody, another voice whose cry of “crucify” would have nailed him to that tree.
So yes, I celebrate the day that Jesus died for me. And if that makes you squirm a little, so it should. It does me, too.