Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Faces of Jesus

The Four Evangelists
The Gospels give us four different portraits of Jesus and challenge us to follow Jesus in different ways.  

Did you ever wonder what Jesus really looked like?  You heard about the Shroud of Turin.  There’s a tradition from at least the Middle Ages that says that the Shroud has the imprint of the crucified Jesus on the front and back of the cloth.  That’s one portrait or face of Jesus.

The great painters give us different portraits of Jesus: da Vinci; Raphael; Michelangelo; El Greco; Rembrandt.  You may have your own favorite portrait.

The four Gospel writers, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, give us four different portraits, and different ways in which to follow Jesus.  And that’s easy to understand.  People who know us well or not so well see us differently.

The Gospel writers faced a unique challenge.  How do they portray someone who is completely human and yet completely divine?  Should they over-emphasize the divine or the human?

Moreover the Gospel writers wrote to different audiences; and so they wrote differently. So do we.

Which Gospel is most authentic, which best reflects the historical Jesus?  They all do.

Let me focus on Mark and Luke.

Mark was the earliest, between 65-70 A.D., shortly after scores of Christians perished during the persecution of the Emperor Nero.  Many Christians were asking: where is God in the midst of our sufferings?  Mark thought he ought to write down who Jesus was, what he did and what he taught.

Mark is an action Gospel.   Jesus seems very approachable, human, compassionate with the handicapped, tough with hypocrites.  He feels misunderstood by the disciples; afraid in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Yes, the Jesus in Mark is the Messiah who suffers so that we can live forever. To be a disciple may mean enduring sufferings; making sacrifices; giving generously.

Luke gives us another portrait.  Luke was a Greek convert who wrote to Gentile Christians much like himself.  Luke gives women a prominent role.  Salvation is for everyone, Jews as well as Gentiles.  He also emphasizes the Spirit.

Luke sees Jesus as a friend and advocate of the poor, incredibly compassionate toward so-called social outcasts.  The Jesus in Luke is also forgiving. To be a disciple is to be a healer, a reconciler, a peacemaker.   Above all, to be a disciple is not only to be a hearer of God’s Word, but like Mary—the disciple par excellence—a doer of God’s Word.

Can we have different portraits or faces of Jesus which highlight the virtues Jesus displayed and inspire us to practice?  Can we have Different ways in which to follow Jesus.  Yes, of course.  Jesus, the God-man, is more than any one person can adequately describe in human language.

And so the question this Lenten season: how can I better reflect in my behavior and attitudes the characteristics or virtues Jesus displayed in the Gospel portraits of Mark and Luke.

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