I wonder if His contemporaries were ever disappointed by Jesus.
I don’t mean the folks who traveled with Him every day, the ones who of course were going to be disappointed by the times He didn’t get the nuance of the way they said they were fine when they weren’t or when He was too busy healing the crowds to see they were exhausted. He may have been perfect, but He wasn’t a mind reader—and keeping His disciples always happy/comfortable wasn’t the point of His ministry, anyway.
I mean the folks who came to see Him, the ones who woke in the weird space when the sun has kind of come up but only enough to make the world that yellowish grey, the ones who walked to see this rabbi Who was becoming such a sensation that He drew huge crowds without a single ad on YouTube. I wonder if they heard Him speak—itself a feat in the days before microphones and speakers, people passing along the words they could make out like a giant and incredibly important game of Telephone as Jesus pushed up His outdoor voice from His oh-so-human diaphragm—and then clamored to meet Him, to have Him heal their ills, to have Him listen to their stories (which is a different kind of healing).
And I wonder if they got up close to this traveling powerhouse and were surprised to find that His hair was going grey (it happens to some of us early, okay) or that His face was much more lined and plain than it had seemed from afar or that His clothes were shabby even for an itinerant rabbi. I wonder if some of them came on one of the days He got overwhelmed and got in a boat and left while the people still clamored for His attention and they stood in shock, disoriented on the shore.
We may be a society and era who invented the technology for the ways we obsess over various celebrities, but we most certainly aren’t the first to get close to the people we shoved onto pedestals and be disappointed to find that they are, after all, still human.
I was thinking about this after having gone to see a Person of Importance a couple of weeks ago; she’s a Church type of some note (in Church circles) and has a lot of great things to say. She was keynoting a retreat/conference I attended and said some really brilliant and thought-provoking things. She also said some things I’m not all that down with. And she said that she was in no way perfect and wasn’t, really, even all that personable.
She was right. She knows herself and her gifts well enough to know that her true and engaged self has to be reserved for her congregation at home where she can go deep with her parishioners and that trying to create five-minute relationships with the crowds of people who want to take pictures with her and have her sign books for them simply isn’t going to go well. In person, she does come across as rather brusque and uninterested, not because she doesn’t care but just because that’s how she’s learned to draw her boundaries. Also, she’s a human and not perfect and maybe is uninterested because she’s tired and frustrated and running low on grace after the five hundredth signature. It was fascinating to hear her unequivocally state that this would be the case and yet still see people after her various talks be disappointed by the reality of her—she’s such a good theologian, she tells such great stories of love and mercy, how could she be so sharp? How could she not listen?
Maybe this was part of what Jesus was doing when He kept telling the disciples not to spread it around that He was the Messiah. The whole God-in-human-form thing only had that gut-punch impact, after all, if there was a gut to punch—if God was human and not wearing humanity like a clearance-rack coat (as in Docetism). We want, we need to believe in the incarnation and its reassurance that God understands why we’re skipping church to deal with the flu, that our human bodies both limit and free us to His service. A huge chunk of early Church history was pushing against the idea that Jesus was some percentage of human or divine in favor of His being 100% both always, all the time. Jesus being anything less was intolerable even though the alternative—that God the divine being was willingly living as a human and yet still had God’s divine nature—was outrageously improbably and more than a little weird.
But we who come thousands of years after Jesus’ ascension don’t have to be disappointed by His homeliness or His inability to get why it drives us nuts that He always leaves His sandals just that far away from the wall of wherever we’re staying. We can put Him back on that pedestal as the perfectly loving peacemaker Who said groovy things about kindness and tolerance.
And I wonder, would we be disappointed if we got the chance to get close to this celebrity Jesus? Can you over-idealize a perfect Being? Or can you just get rattled that your idea of perfection doesn’t match Who He actually is, which means that maybe you—maybe I don’t have as much of a lock on perfection as we’d thought?
The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Matthew 15:25-27, NIV)