Last night, we started a new Alphalive course for people exploring Christianity. The first lesson is ‘Who is Jesus?’ I think it’s the most important question we need to ask because everything else hangs on the answer. During our discussion time, people – some believers and some seekers – shared a variety of thoughts about who Jesus is and what he means for them.
One young man who had to answer that question was Bartolomé Esteban Murillo who lived in Spain in the 17th century. Orphaned as a young child, he grew up in the home of an extended family member. In the main room of the house, overshadowing everything, hung a picture entitled Jesus the Shepherd Boy. The family loved this portrait of Jesus and regularly pointed to it. Jesus was depicted as an angelic meek and mild Spanish boy. There was a halo, his clothes were clean and every hair on his head was in place.
One day, when he was a teenager, Murillo took the picture down and with his own paints began to alter it. He wanted Jesus to more like a real shepherd boy from Judea. The halo was changed to a straw hat. His hair and clothes were made to look dirty and untidy. Rather than eyes averted to heaven, Jesus was now looking at his sheep.
Murillo’s adopted parents were furious with these changes. Thinking to shame him, they forced him to carry the picture through the streets of Seville in penance for his blasphemy. A local painter was impressed with new image of Jesus and took Murillo in as his apprentice. Murillo became one of Spain’s greatest religious artists.
Everyone has a picture of Jesus and we often get upset when someone messes with that picture. Like Murillo’s adopted parents, we like our image of Jesus and don’t want anyone to take it away. When I hear others share their thoughts and impressions of Jesus, I work hard to see the image they have. Sometimes, opinions can be uninformed and distorted, but many times, I discover that people have encountered another side of Jesus that I have missed. My picture of Jesus becomes fuller and richer; he is always becoming more human and more divine.
Our image of Jesus should be dynamic, never static. Even the writers of Scripture were unable to capture everything:
“Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith: Christ was revealed in a human body
and vindicated by the Spirit.
He was seen by angels
and announced to the nations.
He was believed in throughout the world
and taken to heaven in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16)
As we let Jesus adjust our vision of him, we will begin to see him more and more clearly.