I began keeping a journal in my early 30s, now forty years ago. I wish I had begun earlier. I would value having a written record of thoughts and experiences from my 20s and even earlier.
I mention my journal because browsing in a volume from twenty years ago is the trigger for this blog. Namely, I was reminded of preparing a short summary of what Jesus was like for a live appearance on a major network television morning news show on Good Friday.
The producer told me that I would be asked two questions, and that my response to the first question would be my opportunity for a “long” statement: up to 75 seconds. The producer also told me what my first question would be. The host would ask, “Well, what was Jesus like? What would it have been like to be a companion of Jesus?”
I was also told that the viewing audience would be around five million. Given the demographics of the U.S., the majority would be Christians, but of varying kinds: Catholics, Protestants, Pentecostals, non-denominational, conservative and progressive Christians. And a significant percent would be non-Christians, whether “nones” or members of a different religion. It was a daunting and also stimulating question. What does one say in just over a minute to an audience that large and diverse about what Jesus was like?
Twenty years later, the question strikes me as pedagogically useful for all Christians, as well as those who have heard of Jesus but are not very interested in him. What is your 75 second (about 150 words) summary of the Jesus you believe in and love? Or your 75 second summary of the Jesus you are uncertain about or indifferent to or reject?I share my summary from twenty years ago. Recall the question: it’s about the historical Jesus, the pre-Easter Jesus. What was he like? What would it have been like to be a companion of Jesus?
Jesus was a peasant, which tells us about his social class. Clearly, he was brilliant. His use of language was remarkable and poetic, filled with images and stories. He had a metaphoric mind. He was not an ascetic, but world-affirming, with a zest for life. There was a sociopolitical passion to him – like a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King, he challenged the domination system of his day. He was a religious ecstatic, a Jewish mystic, for whom God was an experiential reality. As such, Jesus was also a healer. And there seems to have been a spiritual presence around him, like that reported of St. Francis or the Dalai Lama.
And I suggest that, as a figure of history, Jesus was an ambiguous figure – you could experience him and conclude that he was insane, as some of his family did; or that he was simply eccentric or that he was a dangerous threat; or that he was filled with the Spirit of God.
My summary of what the pre-Easter was like was and is not meant to be complete. How could any 150 word summary be? Nor did or do I imagine it to definitive or normative in the sense that any authentic summary must include these elements.
Nor is the purpose of this blog to highlight my summary. Rather, its purpose is to suggest the usefulness of thinking about what you think Jesus was like. What would you say about Jesus to the proverbial “man from Mars” in a minute or two?