I wonder if it’s not better that the gospels are short. Historians and scholars may bemoan the lack of detail, the truncated narrative, and the absent periods of Jesus’ life that were never unveiled. But if the Son of God were so clear to us as to be the very figure of our fathers, our brothers, our husbands, our lovers, our friends, could we even stand to read the bible?
What imagination does to me, I’m thankful the gospels don’t repeat. There is in each of us, I think, a wish to know a more human Christ, a more intimate and personal man who had foibles and oddities, whose own characteristics made him quirky, funny, and loveable. We want to know him so well we can say which way his hair hangs, where his veins course underneath his skin, and whether his feet are a bit too big for his sandals. But when it comes time to face the crucifixion, the horrid end that more than one gospel relates, we shy away from any thought of a human Jesus. No more friend, no more family, and no more lover. Jesus is the unrelatable Son of God.
When, in the always-discerning, always-reflective Lent, I catch myself humanizing Jesus to the point of making him a friend in prayer, I get slightly sick to my stomach. A flogging, a public humiliation, a violent nailing to a cross and left to be hung—these are easier to endure as hard facts, painful but necessary. If I am suddenly his intimate friend, and swear he knows me as well as I know him; if our pasts mingle and presents are intertwined, if I love him without hesitation, then even a faint thought of torturous crucifixion cripples me. I run away, and pretend it cannot happen.
They say we are meant to devote ourselves especially to God these 40 days. When I was younger, this meant giving up indulgences—the candy, the television, the toys. But sacrificing things seems useless anymore. I’ve tried giving up many things—from pornography to internet to food. Starving myself only debilitates me; I’m angry and can’t function. And then I remember Jesus as a friend, and my anger and frustrations grows. When I let things go in my life that aren’t damaging me, only to show sacrifice for 40 lousy days, it becomes my obsession, and I lose sight of Jesus’ passion and his message.
I wish I could say that doing something more than I am wont to do changes my resolution. I would like to say that giving more, praying more, sharing more enriches my Lent. But when the nightmarish image of Jesus hanging on a splintered cross creeps up on me (and it always does), nothing I do seems worth a damn thing. They’re all empty gestures. I feel as though I’m standing next to his cross, watching him sweat, watching him heave and strain just to breathe, watching the blood spill out of the wounds in his hands. And I offer him wine on a sponge. How futile. How weak. How empty.
And then he dies. Every year, he goes through the suffering again. Isn’t he tired of it? Aren’t we? Do we need to see him bleed and scream so constantly? Let it be; let the person of an intimate Jesus come closer to us. Every Easter, I feel this is ripped away from me. I can’t escape the violent and senseless death of a friend, a lover, a brother. Can anyone?
So every year, I start over again. I lean gently closer, trust a little bit more, open up the cavities of myself I shut when he dies. And just as I begin to love him more than I even thought possible, he suffers the agonizing march to his death.
You tell me: How easy is it to be a Christian?