Jesus as a girly man is what Mgr. Charles Pope writes about here. He’s right. Jesus in the sixties and seventies became a limp-wristed hippie peace and love type of guy. It reminds us that too often we re-make Jesus in our own image.
I guess because I was brought up in a fundamentalist church with preachers who knew how to ‘shoot the gospel gun’ and call sinners to repentance and preached about the wickedness of “them long haired hippie types with their tight blue jeans and rock and roll music” that I was never really attracted to the Jesus of Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. I always saw Jesus as a loner–a prophetic, even vengeful character a bit like some of Clint Eastwood’s characters–maybe the preacher in Paler Rider. He was the squinty eyed Jesus–eyeing up his enemies and dispatching them with a well chosen pithy comment. “Let the dead bury their dead” or “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s” are sharp and edgy.
Maybe what we need is more stern preaching in this soft and effeminate age. This Sunday’s reading from Ezekiel reminds the preacher that he must call the sinner to repentance. Now we don’t like this very much because it makes people feel uncomfortable and uneasy. We’re told it makes them feel guilty. So what’s the big ‘victim’ thing about feeling guilty? If you’ve done wrong you should feel guilty. Guilt is like pain. If you put your hand in the fire it burns. Then you pull your hand out. Same with guilt. You do wrong. Guilt makes you feel bad. You stop doing wrong.
Saying that you shouldn’t feel guilty or that guilt is bad is like saying that the burning sensation in your hand when you put it in the fire is wrong. How crazy is that? So guilt–although it causes us pain–is good for us. It keeps us in check. Increasingly in our society, however, there is no preaching about sin and punishment–not only because it makes people feel uncomfortable, but because many preachers don’t really believe in punishment for sin anyway. God, like Jesus, has become the cotton candy God. All sweetness and fluff but no real content. However, how is anyone supposed to be aware of sin unless the preacher points out that it is a sin? There is a residual awareness of sin in our lives due to generations of a Christian society, but that is fading fast, and if the preacher doesn’t speak about sin he’s as negligent as the doctor who refuses to tell a patient that they have cancer because he’s too cowardly to or because he think the patient might ‘be traumatized.’
No, the doctor calls the patient in and says, “You’ve got cancer. We have to operate. Brace yourself.” Likewise with the cure of souls. We call the patient in and say, “You’re suffering from the cancer we call sin. Doctor Jesus needs to operate.”
The other reason preachers don’t mention sin and punishment is because they are all too aware of the sin in their own lives. So maybe the remedy is for more priests to live austere lives of asceticism and self denial. Maybe we should not be so concerned for our material well being, our comfortable lifestyle and our retirement plans. Maybe we should live life on the edge more–be more prophetic and cut through all the comfortable, sentimental middle class Am-Church crap. That would give us the authority to preach about sin a bit more and maybe save some souls and help renew the church.