It was easter 2014, with mud and spring mixed in the air, life pushing out of dank soil, when I came to understand Jesus in a deeper way.
A few nights before Easter, I hung out with my five siblings in our family living room, each of us engrossed in a project, a book, a computer, when a realization crystallized in my mind.
“Righteous people don’t need Jesus to get to God,” I announced.
They looked at me, scandalized.
“It’s true. Jesus said, ‘I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’ ”
“You’re taking that verse out of context.”
“No, I’m not. That’s what it says. Righteous people don’t need Jesus.”
Understanding lit one sister’s eyes. “She’s talking about people like the Pharisees.”
“See? She understands what I mean.”
My brother was disgusted. “Way to make something simple into something complicated.”
But I knew that for myself, I was making something complicated into something simple.
I used to think of Jesus as a sort of holy wizard pointing to heaven. “Believe on me or be damned.” Jesus seemed to me the height of unfairness. What about the people who hadn’t heard or were deeply rooted in other religions?
But that was before I began to observe our sodden mass of humanity and realize the sorry state we are in. Not one of us lives up to our own idea of what is good. We have no need of a Holy Wizard to condemn us. We are already lost.
I met vienna at a bridal shower. She is not more lost or pitiable than any other person I have met, but something about her open, friendly countenance and the heavy makeup that hid her pain represents to me humanity: its promise and its sorrow.
She wore a short skirt, a silver ring in her nose and tiny silver studs on either side of her eyes. Her eyes were outlined in heavy black.
The makeup covered scars she’d gotten through abuse, she told me.
The body piercings identified her with a subculture. Each was significant, a sort of sacrifice given for loved ones who died.
I understood. My plain Mennonite form of dress is also significant and identifies me with a subculture.
After many drinks, Vienna’s intelligent conversation deteriorated into silliness and emotion. Out on the porch, she told me, with feeling, “I love you. I will love you for the rest of my life.” I didn’t know what to say. I stood there while she waited, and her eyes got large. After a while she laughed and went back into the house.
Someone turned on the television. Violence in the city. Our host, a gentle young mother of two, walked up to the screen and pointed it away from herself. “I’ll be fine, as long as I don’t have to look at that.”
I see myself, Vienna, the gentle host, the perpetrators of violence as one breathing mass of humanity. We struggle for good; we are surrounded and attracted by evil. They war in us — the good and the evil — and we wonder if the good ever wins.
We are one with the young man who stares down depression. One with the starving baby who will not stop crying. One with the girl sold into prostitution. We are one with the cowering woman beaten into submission and one with the maniac who beats her.
This is Vienna. This is me. This is Jesus, who lives in the mud.
Jesus is not a holy wizard who saves those born at the right time, in the right place, with the right religion. He stepped into a need greater than the world and said, “I have a solution.”
The righteous, or those who think they are righteous, will not see a need for Jesus. But Jesus never came for the righteous people.
He came for those who long for God and don’t know where to look.
He came for those who are sick to death of their own sin and can find no power to conquer it.
He came to be the hope in the young man’s eye, the future of the starving child, the avenger of the girl prostitute, the comfort of the cowering woman, the regeneration of the wife beater.
This is Jesus, who sees no sin too great, no hurt too deep.
Jesus who transforms lives, breaks iron chains, casts demons to the depths of hell.
Jesus, who fulfills my God-longing.
Jesus, who lives in the mud.