One thing I find extremely interesting is how Jesus is most typically portrayed in Western religious art, and especially in previous generations. He is soft, thin, gentle; our kind teacher and merciful healer. According to our contemporary stereotypes, he is remarkably effeminate!
Granted these are ethnically inaccurate pictures, and they aren’t typical in the Orthodox tradition, but they are the norm in the West for both Protestants and Catholics. In any case, this pacifist, inclusive, forgiving, emotional, penniless Jesus, apparently also without spouse or child, hardly provides a respectable role model for the stereotypical macho American male.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying this is the only way Jesus should ever be portrayed. It’s important that we not ignore the Jesus who was a hardworking builder’s son, who stormed the temple, who boldly called people out for their hypocrisy, who didn’t run from his accusers. Certainly there is a lot of dynamic and assertive strength in the Son of Man, not that those are uniquely masculine qualities.
What I mean to do is pose some questions: What has happened to that old iconic image in the mind of modern Americans, especially men? How would most American Christians respond to a man like the traditional Jesus shown above appearing today and claiming to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life? How have so many of us come to ignore the nobility of Jesus as a man who was heroic in large part because he refused the role of warrior?
It’s quite clear that many of us Christians prefer the vision of Christ portrayed in the Book of Revelation, the Divine warrior-king who comes to swing a sword (or pull a trigger, or drop a bomb) against all those who aren’t on the “right team.” But is that image one we should emulate?
That picture of Christ is as the Lord of Vengeance that many Christians have hoped and prayed would come in their lifetimes. This is the Christ who seems prophesied to violently defeat all those who have not repented and accepted him as Master, and to extract even more than eye for eye and tooth for tooth from those who have opposed the faithful. It’s not my purpose here to refute that vision of Christ’s return, but to point out that (even if its literal reading is an accurate portrayal of the Second Coming) intolerance, vengeance, hostility, and violence are nonetheless not what Jesus calls for in the meantime. Instead, he teaches the exact opposite. (Matthew 5; Luke 6:17-49) We are therefore not to make the warrior-king Christ of Armageddon a model for Christian life, let alone a model for masculinity.
So the last question I want to pose is this: How would our society, and the world, be different if we fully celebrated and emulated the Jesus of the Gospels as a role model for masculinity?
Please do not consider these questions to be merely rhetorical. I really am interested in your responses.