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Images of Jesus – Variations and Themes

The Rev. Dr. William Rich
May 19, 2016


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Luke 2:1-7 – Jesus as vulnerable babe in a slop trough-manger
Mark 2:1-12 – Jesus as healer of a helpless paralytic
Matthew 5-6 – Jesus as teacher of wisdom
Mark 9:30-36 – Jesus as servant – child as valuable
John 2:13-17 – Jesus as fierce religious zealot
John 8:1-11 – Jesus as strong, but nonjudgmental defender of the sinful
Mark 15:33-37 – Jesus as criminal and sufferer, seemingly abandoned by God
John 20:19-23 – Jesus as conqueror of death and sin, and re-creator 
Colossians 1:15-20, 2:9-15, 3:1-4 – Jesus as cosmic head of the church
Ephesians 1:15-23, 2:4-22 – Jesus as cosmic Lord
Hebrews 2:8-11, 4:14-18, 5:7-10 – Jesus as fellow sufferer, but exalted Lord
Revelation 5:5-6 – Jesus as both Lion and Lamb



Recapping Our Year of Meeting Jesus Again

Throughout this year of Christian formation, we have been exploring the New Testament, delving into stories about Jesus, and reflections on the person of Jesus, seeking to get to know better and more deeply the Jesus that all of us already knew before we began this journey. And now we come to the last steps of our journey together. At this point, what could be more natural than to look back over the months since September to see if we can get a clearer picture of this Jesus we have been getting to know. And to stand and look at a mirror, as it were, at ourselves, and see what if we have come to know ourselves differently in the light of the Jesus we have come to know.

Each of us has what I like to call a “hierarchy of texts” that – usually unconsciously – form a ranked set of our preferred passages about Jesus. From this set of texts we have each constructed a picture of the Jesus we follow, the Jesus we believe in, the Jesus we can “comfortably” claim as Lord and Guide. Yet, if your experience this year has been at all like mine, our former pictures of Jesus have been stretched and changed, and in ways that probably have not been entirely comfortable.  As with Susan in the quotation above from C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” we may have found ourselves taken aback by encountering the Jesus who is not safe, the Jesus who is like a lion at times, and like a very strange kind of king, and not necessarily safe all the time.

I have given you a very small selection of texts above that suggest some of the variety of representations of Jesus that we have encountered this year. I know the selection above can look long and daunting, but I wanted to provide some mixture of passages to suggest the immense range of images that the New Testament offers to us when we delve into something beyond our former list of favorite passages. What passages would be on your list? Creating a list of six to ten passages will give a fuller, more “in the round” picture of the Jesus you have come to know, while a shorter list of passages would only provide a flatter picture that is more ‘caricatureish.’

One of the ways to trace the outlines of your new picture of Jesus is to create, in some sort of ranked order, your own hierarchy of favorite texts about Jesus, as well as the texts you find the least appealing about him. After each passage you pick, try to create a brief descriptive phrase that sums up what you like – or don’t like – about that Jesus. One example: “Jesus clearing the moneychangers out of the Temple (John 2: 13-17)” – I like a Jesus who is this fierce and able to act decisively.” For those of you in Bible study groups, it will be interesting to compare notes on your favorite (and least favorite) images of Jesus with those of your fellow Bible study members. It will also be interesting to see what picture emerges as a sort of “group picture” of Jesus, if you take the top two or three favorite texts of each member of the group and put them together.

Implications of Our different Images of Christ for the Church of the Present and for Trinity Church

Though we worship together in one parish, there are – needless to say – a wide variety of perspectives about who Jesus is within the Body of Christ here at Trinity. And there is an even wider array of viewpoints if we go out into the wider Episcopal Church, and the wider Christian communities of our city and our world. This can be challenging – uncomfortable, delightful, enriching, frustrating, and much more. It stretches you and me to remain in communion with others who see Jesus and understand the way to live as a Christian differently from oneself.

For those of you who have been in Bible study groups this year, as you have gotten to know each other during the year, you will have already noticed that your likes and dislikes of things within the Bible don’t always match up with those of every other member of your group. And yet, I hope, you have also developed a deeper way of listening to those whose views don’t match yours. Perhaps you have learned to “turn to wonder” rather than merely disagreeing with or judging the perspectives of others who differ from you. Perhaps your love for one another has deepened as you have learned to love in spite of difference.  

For the Church of the present to thrive – and for Trinity to thrive as a parish – Paul’s exclamation that we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28)needs to be lived out, and not merely paid lip service to. This means that within the Body none of us should assume that my picture of Jesus is the only “right” one. There must be no ranking of parishioners whose view of Jesus and the Christian life is of more value or less value. It will be a tremendous and transformative witness to the world – especially in this year of rancorous political rhetoric on the left and on the right – if people see us genuinely loving one another despite our disagreements about Jesus and Christian living. There are fewer and fewer communities within our country where people who are not like-minded can truly be in communion with one another and get to know one another deeply despite differing views. It may not be too strong to say that Jesus will have lived.

 – The Rev. Bill Rich



“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” – C.S. Lewis (1888-1963)

“Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion." 
"Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"... 
"Safe?" said Mr Beaver,"Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”



“The Lamb” – William Blake (1757-1827)

Little Lamb who made thee 
    Dost thou know who made thee 
Gave thee life & bid thee feed. 
By the stream & o'er the mead; 
Gave thee clothing of delight, 
Softest clothing wooly bright; 
Gave thee such a tender voice, 
Making all the vales rejoice! 
    Little Lamb who made thee 
    Dost thou know who made thee

    Little Lamb I'll tell thee,
    Little Lamb I'll tell thee!
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild, 
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
    Little Lamb God bless thee.
    Little Lamb God bless thee.



"This little babe" from Ceremony of Carols – Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)




“Ascension of Jesus” – Salvador Dali (1904-1989)

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