Where’s Jesus? I’m reminded of a dumb joke, or what I’ve always thought was a dumb joke. The thing is, I keep remembering it. Here it is.
A mom was having problems with her two young sons. They were misbehaving, probably in the same manner that all children misbehave. But the mom was frustrated. So she asked the pastor to help. This (male) pastor agreed to go and visit and talk to the kids.
Once at the home, he decides to first talk to the youngest boy, leaving the older sibling to wait in the bedroom. In the living room with the young boy the pastor asks, “where’s Jesus?” The boy doesn’t know how to respond so he says nothing. The pastor repeats the question, raising his voice a bit, “where’s Jesus?” Confused and becoming nervous the boy continues in his silence. The pastor then, in his most loud and authoritarian voice, repeats the question, “where’s Jesus?”
At once the boy flees, running to the bedroom shared with his brother and diving under the bed. The older brother asks, “what happened?” To which the younger brother replies, “someone stole Jesus and the pastor thinks we did it!”
The part I don’t like about this joke is that it is so disconnected from the idea of child discipline. What, I ask my logical self, would the pastor have been trying to accomplish? But, in thinking about the question, “where’s Jesus?” this particular joke always comes to mind.
Where’s Jesus? Somebody stole him…
We laugh at the idea that someone would have the power to control Jesus’ coming and going. Or do we? These days it doesn’t seem to be so funny. At least the idea of Jesus seems to have been stolen. Stolen and replaced with a fake, plastic, moldable Jesus. This Jesus says whatever those who seek power in his name want him to say. This Jesus doesn’t really care about moral behavior if it gets in the way of the quest for earthly power. It’s interesting, this quest for power though. Because some who use it also try to make God into someone completely powerless.
How else to understand that meme that goes around after every school shooting…and every other atrocity that happens? This week I saw it as a photo of a t-shirt. It’s supposed to be a letter to God, along with God’s response. Here it is:
There is so much that is wrong and harmful in this.
First, the “God is not allowed in school” argument is referring to prayer. Compulsory prayer, led by a person in authority is not allowed in school. But any person can pray. Why not compulsory prayer? Because everyone is not of the same religion and even people of the same faith might have different interpretations of that faith. On this Memorial Day weekend we remember those who died fighting to defend freedom…freedom of religion is part of this freedom.
Second, the God of this meme is vindictive. The implication is, “I would help you but…” How else can you describe a God who would have the power to stop the violence but chooses not to.
Third, it blames people for supporting freedom of religion but then absolves those responsible of committing crimes with the misplaced logic that “if only we had organized prayer every day there would be no violence.”
Fourth, if the problem is that God is not allowed to be in school – through prayer – then we don’t really have any responsibility in the matter.
Last, and most importantly, it assumes a great arrogance in the human ability to dictate to God, where God can and cannot go. The God I know is more powerful than that.
Can we control where God goes? Is it then like the story of the children…Jesus is missing and they think we took him?
Right here in this world. Sent by the father because of love for the world. In fact, he was sent by love for the world, not to condemn it, “but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (3:17). This is not because of anything we did, or could do. Jesus is here because of God’s love for the world.
This is what Jesus told Nicodemus during his late-night visit. It was a late-night visit because Nicodemus was afraid of what the other leaders would think of his associating with someone who’d just violently thrown people out of the temple…people who’d been abusing religion. Who’d made it a method of gaining wealth and power. Nicodemus didn’t understand.
I wonder how often we too are silent because we desire the approval of others…or fear their reactions. As I wonder this, I am increasingly convinced that now is the time to speak up. To counter the dangerous, hateful, and harmful depictions of God. I understand the fear. But I also see a need to speak up, especially for our neighbors.
Nicodemus visited in the night out of fear but later, after Jesus had been abandoned to a lonely death on the cross, Nicodemus was one of those who cared for his body. He had experienced the love of God through Jesus and it changed him. How might that love change us? Will we share the love that we’ve received to a world that is need of experiencing it? I hope so.