Monday, April 10, 2017

Sexy Jesus

The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” Matthew 21:9-11
The first thing audiences noticed about Son of God, the 2014 film based on a History Channel series, is that Jesus is a hunk. 

Diogo Miguel Morgado Soares, a Portugese actor and supermodel, has the title role and he is distractingly gorgeous. Critics and audiences dubbed him sexy Jesus.

Compared with our standard cultural image, Diogo’s Jesus is fairly conventional with his long hair and beard and aquiline nose. He might be dressing as Salman’s Head of Christ for a costume party.

But, oh! Those limpid eyes! That strong brow! Those sensual lips!

And Diogo is just the latest in a long line of sexy cinema Jesi, who have included the crop of Hollywood’s gorgeous males: Jeffrey Hunter, Max Von Sydow, Ted Neeley, Robert Powell, and Jim Caviezel.

Jeffrey Hunter was my favorite. He was better looking than Diogo, and his break-out film role was a Christ-like figure in The Searchers. Later he played the bad guy in Disney’s Great Locomotive Chase, and he ended his career as a starship captain in the pilot of Star Trek.

Also, my daughter Katie would want me to mention that two gorgeous young men, Hunter Parrish and Corbin Bleu, were sexy Jesi in the most recent Broadway revival of Godspell. Katie has met them both.

But what did Jesus really look like?

Holy Week commences with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. None of the gospel writers tell us what he looked like, but some Christians surmise he must have cut a fine figure.

As he passes through Jerusalem’s gate he is sitting on an ass. That in itself might suggest an incipient charisma. Ordinary people who entered the city on an ass – and during Passover they were legion – were virtually invisible. 

Those whose legs were too short to straddle the beast, or whose legs were so long their feet dragged in the dust, might have attracted amused glances or snickers.

But no one laughed at Jesus. And everyone noticed him. 

Soon people were laughing and dancing and following him like a delirious second line in a Mardi Gras parade.

The trail of evidence is circumstantial, but many have followed it to the conclusion that Jesus was a great looking dude.

Others follow the evidence in a different direction. John Alan Turner, one of Fox News’ stable of contrarians, insists Jesus looked like an average Jew of his time. 
He was probably short and maybe a little frumpy. Calloused hands and messy beard. Deep down we know this, and it makes the big screen version of Jesus seem contrived and unreal.I think we’re afraid of the real Jesus because he’s too normal. He looked less like a movie star and more like a regular person -- like he could be your neighbor or your mailman.This is what initially got him in trouble. People couldn’t believe he was the Son of God because he looked too much like...the son of Joseph.
Turner may have been thinking of the disclaimer in Isaiah 53, anticipating a messianic figure who “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

Even so, one has to wonder: if your mailman rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, would the crowds have swirled around him in an ecstasy of adoration?

Even before his Holy Week activities, there must have been something about Jesus that attracted thousands to his sermons and made King Herod fret that, among the plethora of would-be messiahs wandering around, Jesus was the one he should worry about.

What was so magical about Jesus? 

It could have been his homiletical style. 

It could have been his appealing message that the realm of God was nigh and soon the powerful would be rebuked and everyone would love one another. 

It could have been his charming knack for turning water into wine or curing the sick. 

It could have been his piercing blue eyes.

This might be a good time to reflect that obsessions over human beauty have never been greater than they are in our own period of human history. Cinema and television dangle humanity’s sexiest creatures in front of us, and virtually all advertising is aimed at convincing us that particular products – automobiles, make-up, clothing, tooth paste, reduced calorie cuisine – will make us more beautiful and more desirable. 

It’s no wonder many of us can’t stop thinking this way when we go to church. What does Jesus have that I don’t have?

Anyones perception of beauty, of course, is subjective. 

When I worked for the World Council of Churches, I had a colleague who met Yassir Arafat in a receiving line and nearly swooned when he leaned forward to kiss her cheek. She thought he was very fine-looking, though his scraggily beard, enormous nose, and receding chin were not the standard indices of beauty.

Similarly, I thought there was much to admire about Eleanor Roosevelt, who was famous for her protruding teeth and reedy voice. And it wasn’t just her inner beauty I admired. I found her very appealing.

All of which suggests we make up our own minds about what is beautiful and there’s no point arguing whether George Clooney or Jude Law is the sexiest man alive.

I don’t think it mattered one whit to Jesus what he looked like. And of course it shouldn’t matter to shallow Christians whether he was ordinary looking or a holy hunk.

Yet during Holy Week it is irresistible to contemplate the nature of the magnetism Jesus so obviously possessed when cheering crowds in Jerusalem’s narrow streets surrounded him.

Two things we can surmise.

One, it was a powerful force indeed. 

Thousands of people who had never met him were suddenly poring out of their homes and shops, grabbing palm fronds to strew in his path, and shouting giddily, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 

Two, it was a transitory magic. 

Before the week was out, people were asking themselves what they had ever seen in Jesus. One day they were ready to nominate him King of the Jews. Hours later, chagrined by what they regarded as their own temporary insanity, they were calling for his head.

If the people had been temporarily hypnotized by Jesus’ good looks, it was soon obvious that good looks were not going to save him. 

As we contemplate this dramatic cavalcade with its palms and hallelujahs, perhaps the wisest course is to forget about what we can never know – what Jesus looked like – and focus on what Jesus came to Jerusalem to accomplish.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was the beginning of the climax of his earthly ministry, and God saw to it that multitudes would turn out by the thousands to watch. Many would follow him faithfully to the end, and many would fall away or join the calls to crucify him. Whatever individual participants would decide about Jesus, God saw to it that God’s intervention in human history had plenty of human witnesses.

And God’s intervention leads us to conclude that, no matter what Jesus looked like, he must have been the most beautiful human being who ever walked.

There is a story that a woman came to President Abraham Lincoln to plead for the life of her son, who had been caught sleeping on guard duty. After Lincoln issued the pardon, the woman was asked, “Ain’t old Abe an ugly critter?” The woman was genuinely puzzled. She replied “He is the most beautiful man I have ever met.”

Regardless of whether Jesus was regarded as good looking by the standards of brass age Palestine, I’m sure he was regarded as extremely beautiful by many who encountered him: 

those whose loved ones he restored to health; 

the woman he rescued as she was about to be stoned to death; 

the lame he made to walk; 

the blind he made to see;

the demoniacs tormented by evil spirits he cast out; 

the tax collectors, prostitutes, and soldiers who were scorned and shunned by polite society before he sat with them as a brother to share food and drink;

the poor, the captives, the lost, the oppressed he came to save.

How they must have basked in his exquisite loveliness.

Maybe he was short, a little frumpy, with calloused hands and messy beard.

But if he was, one thing is sure:

He was so beautiful no one noticed what he looked like.

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