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What kind of a guy was he?

In the year 325, the Christian church proclaimed Jesus as “True God and True Man.” After that, all the art and music and writings focused on his divinity and very little on his humanity, and that continues today in many circles. But if Jesus was truly a guy, what kind of a guy was he? As we skim through the scriptural accounts and deliberately pass over what could be divinity stories or myths, we can find many different human personality traits. Here are just three of them.

The nice guy

You know how pesty some little kids can be, especially the loud ones. It’s easy to picture this scene. Jesus is trying to talk to the parents, but the kids are interrupting and asking all sorts of childish questions. The mothers are embarrassed and the disciples start pulling the kids away, but Jesus suddenly stops them. “Don’t do that!” he snaps. “Let the little children come to me” (Luke 18:15). You can just imagine the “told you so” looks those mothers shot at those surprised disciples. And you can guess how these women spread the story far and wide of the “nice guy” who treated their children with respect. Women fall in love with nice guys. Anyone who reads the resurrection story in John’s gospel knows that Mary Magdalene was in love with Jesus. She couldn’t quit hugging his neck (John 20:17).

The wild guy

We move from the nice guy to the wild guy. Imagine a courtyard as big as the track at the Indianapolis speedway. It’s the feast of the Passover, and this Temple-courtyard in Jerusalem is about the same size. It’s packed solid with tourists and pilgrims and soldiers and vendors of all kinds. Somehow, Jesus can throw everybody out of this “speedway-sized” courtyard, turning over tables and money, and then he’s strong enough to keep anybody else from coming in. What kind of wild threats was he screaming? What kind of running around and shouting did it take to pull this off (Luke 19:45)? We’ve got an uncontrolled wild man here.

Or is this just an exaggerated memory that both Matthew and Luke picked up in some lost document that Mark missed completely? Exaggerated or not, and whatever made him do it — if it really is historical — Jesus threw away the image of the nice guy.

The confused guy

He’s in the Garden of Gethsemane. His loyal apostles fall asleep from all the wine, and he feels very much alone and afraid. The Greek words Mark uses to describe this scene are powerful (Mark 14:33). First, Jesus is just amazed that he finds himself in this situation (ekthambasthai) and wonders how he got here. Then a feeling of uncertainty (ademonein) spreads over him as he struggles about his future. Finally, he begins to fear the worst and he becomes “exceedingly sorrowful” (perilupos), plunging into a “sinkhole of dreadful agony.”

This is not the picture of a confident, all-knowing, god-hero who knows the past and the future and who can see far beyond the nebulous present. He’s a slumped-over, confused guy, scared to death about what might be lurking beyond the darkness. He’s just like you and me.

Nice guy, wild guy, confused guy. But who wants to meditate on these human aspects? Most Christians prefer to focus on savior, redeemer, Son of God. I can understand that. It’s much more comfortable to think of Jesus as divine without any human warts or weaknesses or personality changes.

But hey, he was a guy, you know.

Contact me: drc@billcummings.org.

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