Saturday, April 14, 2012

Where is Jesus?

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Greece. I visited Greek Orthodox churches and a number of Greek homes. I observed that there were icons (religious paintings or reliefs of saints and Christ) everywhere: in churches, in taxi's, and in homes. In one home in particular there was a large icon of Christ in the hallway. Wanting to take a group portrait, the patriarch of the family half-jokingly said we should gather under the portrait of Jesus, to include Him.

The idea that we should include Jesus in our photo, persisted in my thoughts. It seemed absurd to me that Jesus was a portrait on the wall and that we should go gather by His picture to include Him in a snapshot of our lives. Then came my "ah-hah" moment. The location of Jesus has been the source of much, if not all the controversy within Christianity!

Having attended churches of at least five denominations, I have observed Christians have many differing beliefs as to where Jesus is located. Some believe that Jesus' entire substance is in the bread and the wine. Others say that Jesus' entirety is encompassed by word and sacrament. Still others say He is contained by the word alone ("sola scriptura"). So where exactly is Jesus? Where should I expect to find him?

I remembered reading that Jesus could often be found in the presence of outcasts: tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor, and those rejected by the religious establishment. Among the "least of these", Jesus often said "the Kingdom of God is near". He equated His presence among misfits with the nearness of God's Kingdom. I also recalled that when Jesus was asked when and where the Kingdom would come, he replied "The Kingdom of God is within you!"

Tolstoy defined the "Kingdom of God is within you" not as a mystical religion but as a "new conception of life." So what does this have to do with the picture, the icon on the wall? Well, the picture is one way of locating Jesus, albeit in a mystical religious way. On the other hand, if I take Jesus at his word, that the Kingdom of God is within me, then Jesus is not just a picture on the wall! A "new conception of life" is that His Kingdom is within me and that His life must be expressed through me. I must conceive of my life differently!