Ashamed of Jesus?
A few years ago, Steven Speilberg won popular acclaim with his fantasy movie Jurassic Park about the recreation of dinosaurs from DNA found in ancient amber. As is usual with the theme of humans delving into matters and trying to play God, events go awry and terribly wrong.
As Steven Speilberg was editing and finishing up the work needed for the release of Jurassic Park, he was hard at work on another movie with a very different theme: not fantasy, but history; not spectacular special effects, but gritty black-and-white. The movie Steven Speilberg created is titled Schindler's List, and it may be the greatest movie created to date. It will be shown tonight on television and I highly recommend its viewing.
I said that Jurassic Park and Schindler's List are very different, but they have some similarities. Both are related through the themes of horror and heroism. The hero in Schindler's List is a most unlikely hero: Oskar Schindler who describes himself as a war profiteer for the Nazis and a user of slave labor. Oskar Schindler is one of those hale larger-than-life characters who oozes charm and fellowship to obtain war contracts from the Nazis and to obtain the use of their Jewish concentration camp prisoners. Schindler is so bold as to obtain money from the Jews of the ghetto to start up his business, promising to use Jews as labor in essential war manufacturing. Schindler is an amoral, adulterous, profit driven giver of parties who sees his chance in the war to make his fortune.
A self-centered immoral war-profiteer does not seem like very good material for a hero. If anything, Oskar Schindler seems to be a caricature of modern consumer society fixated on pleasure, immediate gratification, and the regarding of human beings as so many units of labor to be used for material gain. Oskar Schindler succeeds on charm and cultivates friendship with the most repulsive examples of Nazi terror and insanity. The fact that Oskar Schindler is so appealing, even to Americans half a century later, says something about the goals and values of our world.
A consumer society faces certain temptations, including the regarding of all persons as mere economic units of production and purchase. Compassion is replaced by the bottom line. Consumers have the power to demand what they want with the threat of taking their money elsewhere if their demands are not met. Sociologists say that the values of a consumer society have become so prevalent that even those raised in the values of delayed gratification and high quality work are so influenced by consumer values that there is only a matter of degree between the older and younger segments of our society. The model admired in business is that of the McDonald's restaurant chain for its fast, friendly, and efficient service.
What is wrong with the values of a consumer society? I have already mentioned the devaluation of human beings to units of production and profit. There is also a tendency to value image over substance. One movie maker commented on an Olympic medal winner that she would never be cast in a movie as an Olympic champion because she seemed too ordinary, too down-to-earth. All Olympic medals showed was that she had talent, determination, and years but hard work to achieve her goals, but the movies would cast someone who was more glamorous and larger than life. The only problem with persons who seem larger than life is that they are not part of real life. Like Oskar Schindler, larger than life persons are attractive because they flatter us with their attention and they give us hope that there is someone who can solve all problems, achieve all goals, and right all wrongs to our consumers' specifications. Such a person is a savior we would want. Such a savior is our idea of who can save the world.
Ah yes, we want a savior who is larger than life, who is somehow above the fray, who can by force of personality turns the world in paradise. Is there any wonder that Jesus of Nazareth, a wandering son of a carpenter, looks puny and pale compared to the saviors of our fantasy? Well then, if God will not provide the savior of our dreams, can we not take our money to the savior we want, a savior we will not be ashamed to proclaim?
Tempting isn't it, to look for a savior that meets our specifications for image, efficiency, and courtesy? After all, if God does not send us what we want, shouldn't we demand better? It is tempting, and it is a temptation of all generations consider the Christian message of Jesus of Nazareth as the savior, the one who saves the world, and, if we cannot find a more suitable savior, then to turn Jesus into the savior we want. Jesus might be salvageable with the proper spin. Isn't that what the disciple Peter tried to do? Peter had proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah, but when Jesus began to talk about the need for the Son of Man to suffer rejection at the hands of the officials, to die, and to rise after three days, whatever that might mean; Peter took Jesus aside to correct Jesus as to what people expected. The surprise is that Jesus rebuked Peter by saying, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
Poor Peter, so wanting to be bold, so eager to proclaim his faithfulness no matter what, so wanting Jesus to present the right image, and Jesus is so rude to call Peter "Satan," tempter, and to tell Peter that Peter's mind is not set on the ways of God. But isn't this how it is to be: we tell God what we want and it is God's job to provide us with our desires? After all, we can always go to another god, or can we? Here is the problem. There is only one God, one true God. All other gods are fantasies and temptations away from the truth of God. Not only is it necessary for the Son of Man not to be larger than life, not to be exempt from the sufferings of humans, even to execution as a criminal on a cross, but all who would follow Jesus must take up their cross. Those who are ashamed of Jesus and of His words will be those Jesus will be ashamed of when He comes in the glory of God.
The bad news is that we do not have a consumer god who gives us a savior with a bold image. The good news is that the true God who sends the true Savior of the World as the light of the world to overcome the darkness of sin and evil and death is a greater Savior than the puny super heroes we imagine we want. The bad news is that we are not called to a religion of mere comfort. The good news is that the power of God's love through Jesus Christ can and does unbind individuals and nations from sin and evil and death with forgiveness and transformation of the deepest core of our being: not by our power, but by the power of God. The bad news is that Peter would boast that nothing would scare him away from Jesus, but Peter would deny even knowing Jesus. The good news is that Peter became an apostle and leader beyond his dreams. The bad news is that the Oskar Schindlers of the world continue to dominate through flattery, greed, and unscrupulous behavior. The good news is that even the Oskar Schindlers of this world can become interested in those they exploit, become compassionate protectors of those he comes to know, and become rescuers of lives - even convincing German soldiers not to massacre survivors of concentration camps.
I mentioned Oskar Schindler again because the movie about his life was the unlikely transformation of a self-centered and greedy individual into someone who saved hundreds of lives at great risk to his own. Oskar Schindler is buried in Jerusalem, and he is remembered as one in whom the grace of God shone in the darkest recesses of history and the human soul.
I have heard it said that God works in mysterious ways. I often wonder if the ways of God are truly mysterious or if we are so tied to the delusions of this world that the ways of God seem strange? Abraham and Sarah laughed when, at the age of ninety-nine and ninety, God told them they would have a baby. They named their baby Isaac, which means "God laughs." What would happen in the world and in our lives if we were to stop trying to manipulate God to fit our ideas of God, and let the reality of God enter into our lives? How would we be changed? How much would we have to let go of in order to take the hand of Jesus? It might be worthwhile to find out because what profit is there in gaining all this world has to offer if we forfeit our lives? May God turn our fears and tears into laughter when we accept God as God accepts us, when we love God as God loves us, and when we follow Jesus without shame or fear. Amen and Amen ©1997