By Joel A. Hess –
Like many simple-minded fools, I love the movie Talladega Nights: the ballad of Ricky Bobby. Next to the scene when he first speaks publicly and doesn’t know what to do with his hands, I love the baby Jesus prayer he gives early in the movie. He begins the prayer, “Dear sweet baby Jesus” and continues with “tiny infant Jesus” and “use your infant powers.” His family is annoyed by his obsession with baby Jesus and tells him that Jesus is a grown man. Ricky Bobby says, “I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m saying grace. When you say prayers, you can say what you want…” Of course, his buddy Cal says, “I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo t-shirt.” One of the kids adds, “I like to think of Jesus as a ninja.”
As funny as this sounds, we all have a tendency to choose our own Jesus and pick our own version of him. If the goal of the Church is to get people to believe in Jesus per se, that’s already done. Most people probably believe in Jesus in some shape or form. But usually He is an invention of their own imagination.
St. Peter started out like Ricky Bobby quite frankly. Peter declares Jesus to be the Messiah, but when Jesus starts saying some wacked out stuff about dying and being rejected, Peter corrects Him! Peter corrects Jesus! That’s American Christianity 101. Designer iPhone cases, designer babies, designer gods. Peter didn’t want suffering Jesus; he wanted ninja Jesus. What Jesus do you pray to?
After Jesus rebukes Peter and calls him Satan, He then tells the crowds that they too will not look so “good” before the world. He goes on to say that, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Well, who would be ashamed of Jesus? Everyone likes Jesus, right? Notice Jesus doesn’t just say “ashamed of me” but also “and my words…” You can’t have Jesus without His words! He will tell you who He is. He won’t let Himself be a figment of your imagination. Knowing Jesus only means knowing Him through His Words. We grasp Him, hold on to Him, see Him through His words!
Peter didn’t like Jesus’ words. Neither do we. Of course, immediately conservative Christians think of the ways God’s words about same-sex marriage, abortion, etc. tempt us to be ashamed of Him in this day and age. Many a pastor claim that the conservative biblical church is suffering a martyrdom due to these issues. I suppose that’s partly true. Many Christian churches have become ashamed of God’s word on these matters. Yet, Jesus’ words also tell us to love your neighbor as yourself—even your gay neighbor. His words also tell us to welcome the repentant abortion doctor, the woman with the terrible reputation looking for help, the raggedy stranger who’s motives we hold suspect. We don’t like that Jesus. We are ashamed of some of His ragtag company.
How often have we failed like Peter, trying to box Jesus in, reject His words and replace Him with our own conservative republican or liberal democrat. To God, we look as foolish as Ricky Bobby. Forgive us.
Thank God the real Jesus is not affected by our inferior caricatures, which often look like self-portraits. We are all doctor Frankensteins when it comes to God, creating self-congratulatory monsters out of dead things.
Jesus continued to the cross whether Peter liked it or not. He also continues through time and space, making living breathing beautiful people out of dead men and women. How does He do it? Through His Word that cannot be stolen or co-opted! Thank you, Jesus, for your word that gives me forgiveness for being ashamed of you! Come Lord Jesus.