Feb 112012

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!

Jesus meek and mild 1 Jesus meek and mild 2 Jesus meek and mild 5

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?

apocalyptic christ

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.


  4 Responses to “The Masculinity of Jesus”

  1. You certainly raise some intriguing issues, Chuck. At least in the West, depictions of Jesus seem to follow a “standardized” model. He is portrayed as a man of beautiful countenence and body, but one never really gets a sense of his sexuality.

    I’m quite sure this standard model for the depisction of Jesus probably had its beginnings in the early Church. Given the Christian Church’s preoccupation with sexual morality, which continues today, its no wonder that Jesus was never depicted as virile or sexual. I suppose that would have been much too scandalous for the faithful.

    And yet, the Gospel descriptions of Jesus tell a quite different story. He was the leader of what presumably was a group of fishermen who were probably pretty rough characters. He included as friends prostitutes, tax collectors and assorted other undesireables. He also seems to have had a fairly active social life and, I’m sure, had a few parties and drinks with friends. He doesn’t seem to me to have given much thought to how the society of his time viewed his activities.

    As a male, I am much more at home with the written portrayals of Jesus’ life than artistic depictions. It seems to me that he lived life fully and authentically. He was as much sensual as he was spiritual. There was really no distinction. Both were part of the whole package. As a role model, it is this authenticity and freedom that attracts me. I think that includes exhibiting traits that are sometimes considered masculine and at other times feminine. To be free and authentic must include both.

    God’s Peace.

  2. Wonderful comments, as usual, Steve. 🙂


  3. Great question, Chuck,

    I remember making the discovery in college, while studying Matthew with InterVarsity, that the Beatitudes are remarkably feminine. The discovery has stuck with me and has shaped my understanding of Jesus ever since. Often, I have longed for such a realization to come to our culture within our faith, and lately, I have seen this longing coming into fruition more and more.

    Many of you also know how much I appreciate the masculine Jesus — the one who overturned the tables of the capitalists who were making a profit in His Father’s house. There is something truly beautiful in this perfectly androgynous Jesus, as He places within our hearts the desire to complete the masculine and the feminine within ourselves. Thank you for drawing our contemplation on this.

    Thanks, also, for your prayer for Lent. When I expressed the thought to give up dessert for Lent, our 8 year old daughter astonished us by saying she wants to too! We missed Ash Wednesday, so we’ll be starting tonight ourselves, so your prayer is perfect timing. I’ll share it tonight.


    • Hi Karina,

      Thanks for your kind words and for your personal reflections. I’m glad that these two pieces spoke to you and that you and your family are joining with me in that prayer.


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