A Catholic woman wrote the following: “As always, Christ is both astonishing and everyday; both exactly what we want and exactly what we don’t want.” I find those words very profound and right on target.
The Jesus who is loving, kind, patient and affirming of people is indeed exactly what we want. The message is everywhere: people even the worst-behaved people are seeking to be loved and appreciated. That loving side of Jesus, which even a brief reading of the New Testament reveals, appeals to us, and people willingly embrace that side of Jesus and Christianity.
But the Jesus who makes demands of us, who speaks of suffering and carrying our cross, who teaches something different from what we want to hear that Jesus is exactly what we don’t want. However, we cannot have an authentic Jesus unless we accept both his passionate love for us and the reality of what it costs.
I like the term “teddy bear Jesus” to describe the Jesus who is seen only as a loving, warm and fuzzy man who never makes any demands on us. I observe that Jesus in the way many people seem to envision him: the one who never judges behavior, who never objects to what we want to do and makes no moral demands of us.
But that’s not the Jesus of the Gospels. With the real Jesus, there is none of what the Lutheran pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.”
The real Jesus taught that we must die to self-centeredness and center our life on obeying God … and in a culture filled with “me first” and “no one tells me what to do,” Jesus is exactly what we don’t want. But then, we’re no different from any other age: Jesus is always both exactly what we want and exactly what we don’t want. He is, as the Bible says in the Gospel according to Luke, “a sign of contradiction.”