I was doing an activity with my Confirmation students recently that has stuck with me. In the activity I spread a bunch of pictures of Jesus around the room and told students to pick one image they connected with and one image they did not connect with. Then as a group we went around the circle and began to share about the pictures we’d chosen.
One of the boys held up a picture of Jesus where he looked rather grungy. Sort of like a middle school boy student returning from a weekend Church retreat. Jesus was in need of a serious shower! The student then said, “I don’t connect with this picture of Jesus because he’s dirty. I always picture Jesus as being clean.”
As soon as he said it I proceeded to pick my jaw up off the ground. He was absolutely right. This student had stumbled upon something incredibly profound. He was calling out our cultural notion of “clean Jesus”. We want a savior who is clean, neat and trim. We want a Jesus who looks like a pastor and not a homeless guy. We have created clean Jesus to make ourselves comfortable. We have hosed him down and handed him a stick of deodorant and given him some whitening strips for his teeth and a pass to the gym to work on his abs. We have created movie star Jesus.
I wonder if in doing this we have idolized Jesus. What, idolize Jesus! How is that possible? He is God. Isn’t he the one we are supposed to worship? Yes, but what if we are not actually worshipping Jesus? What if we are worshipping our own projections of who we think Jesus should be so that we can justify our current lifestyle and existence? If we worship clean, gentle, well mannered, comfortable Jesus have we started worshipping someone else? Have we ignored the parts of Jesus that are difficult for us to reconcile; the parts of Jesus that if embraced would force us to radically re-think our own lives and understanding of what it means to follow him. Have we created a Jesus that we can show off to our friends and family but that fails to connect with the harsh realities of our actual lives?
If one of the primary goals of being a Christian is to be transformed more and more into the image of Jesus Christ, then I confess I don’t really have the stamina or energy to be transformed into clean Jesus who has it all together all the time. I find the image of dirty Jesus compelling because it seems to fight against this compulsion and need to be perfect. This image seems more attainable. More human. More real.
I don’t know about you, but for me there’s something freeing about following dirty Jesus. I connect with dirty, tired annoyed Jesus. Dirty Jesus seems to invite me to come just as I am without all the trappings of moralistic and spiritual piety. Dirty Jesus doesn’t expect my Sunday best 24/7. So if you don’t mind, I’m going to go find some brown markers and do some much needed coloring. And when I’m done with that I’m going to start working on the picture of Jesus in my mind that also could use a little more dirt, a little more humanness.