I wonder how many African Americans imagine Jesus as a black man. Certainly, the real Jesus didn’t have lily-white skin and blonde hair. With a Middle Eastern complexion and the effects of the sun, Jesus’ skin color might not have been much different from the picture above. His clothes, however, would not have been as crisp and clean as in the portrait. I personally see him with tattered cloak, worn sandals, and unkempt beard, sometimes bone-tired from travelling the dusty roads of Galilee. How different are the church windows where he appears as King of the Universe with crown and scepter, holding the orb of Earth in one hand!
How do Christians reconcile these two images? Perhaps the best effort is the early Christian hymn of Philippians 2:6-11.
(Jesus)…though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (ESV)
Well, I’m more than a little uneasy with the idea of the historical Jesus being “in the form of God,” but—if I can be allowed to anthropomorphize—I can see a peasant Jesus in Heaven being embraced by God the Father—the one with the long, white beard and the very serious visage. And as a former faithful Catholic, I well remember the masses celebrating the Feast of Christ the King, in which my church would display the picture of a king’s crown below a crown of thorns. Or—to quote William Penn— “No Cross, No Crown.”
I do like the Quaker metaphor of the Inward Christ as an Inner Light. Not so anthropomorphic as other Christ images! And we really must make a distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. The Christ of Faith is a cultural artifact erected upon the quicksand of the historical Jesus. That doesn’t mean that the Christ of Faith isn’t real. I believe the Holy Spirit must have been hard at work in order to place a lowly Jewish peasant in the Godhead itself. And when Christians pray to God, they are praying to an Ultimate Reality that includes Jesus, the man, the Christ, God’s messenger and prophet.
Admittedly, there are many paths to God other than the Christian way. But for heretical Christian traditionalists like myself, Jesus is the King of Our Hearts and the Light of Our Inner Selves.
~ Richard Russell
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