The last four Sunday nights, my family has been watching History Channel’s presentation of The Bible. As I wrote about for Plugged In a couple of weeks ago, that’s involved covering our kids’ eyes quite a bit, as many of the stories presented in the miniseries have been pretty violent. And as Matt Kaufman and others have written about here and elsewhere, the series has generated tons of conversation about the biblical stories that producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey chose to tell, as well as how they’ve chosen to tell them.
But that’s not what I want to focus on today, as valuable and important as those conversations are. Instead, I want to talk about Jesus — specifically, one aspect of Jesus’ character I think the show has done a really admirable job of portraying.
Watching last week’s penultimate episode leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, I was taken by the incredible contrast between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel. Now, this is obviously not rocket science. If you’ve ever read the gospels in the Bible, you know that the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law almost never look good. More often, they come off looking exactly as Jesus described them, as the “brood of vipers” He repeatedly labels them in Matthew.
Still, the difference between Jesus and these men as presented in The Bible has been sharp. Where the Pharisees, especially the high priest, are grim, cheerless, somber, and legalistic men, Jesus is almost always smiling. He hugs people. He touches people. He laughs. He cries. And there’s almost always a twinkle in His eye, like He just can’t wait to draw people to himself and let them in on the kingdom of God. It’s no wonder that people literally flock to Him.
In short, He’s the kind of person — and a very kind person, at that — you want to be around. It’s a quality that almost magnetically compels people to follow and listen to Him, because He’s so very, very different from what everyone has come to expect from a religious leader.
In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado, who portrays the Savior, talked about how seriously he took the role. “Jesus is definitely the most complete and complex figure of mankind; He’s just someone who belongs to millions and billions of families all around the world. Just [given] the chance [to play Him], I’m like, ‘OK, I’m going to try to just give an example of my Jesus.”
I think Morgado’s succeeded in capturing this aspect of Jesus’ character in a way that’s challenged me to think about my own life and interactions with others. Am I kind and big-hearted? Am I affectionate and affirming? Or am I nitpicking, stern and self-righteous in my interactions with others? Do I, like the Pharisees, demand (either verbally or nonverbally) that others live up to some set of impossibly high expectations? Am I more apt to scowl or scoff at other people — be they family, friends, co-workers or even strangers on the road or in line at a store — than I am to smile and think about how I might display kindness in that moment?
I fear that sometimes I’m more apt to be the latter than the former.
Thankfully, Jesus never grows weary of shaping me — and you — into the His likeness. He longs for us to accept His gracious offer of forgiveness, to sojourn with Him and to be transformed by that relationship. His way is not one of stoic, unsmiling, strenuous, self-absorbed to improve ourselves on our own — and to make sure everyone else does the same. Instead, He invites us to lay down our burdens and to walk with Him, as Eugene Petersen describes this way in The Message:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message).
That’s the Jesus I want to know and be like.