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The Big Question

Who would Jesus see in the mirror today?

By Lee Simpson

What would Jesus’ reflection show? I propose a game of theological 20 questions. But first let me state the perspective from which I write: I believe in the divinity of Christ, child of God and human parents. My position is further informed by a stint teaching a world religions course in a multicultural high school. I came to hold that Jesus is one of many paths to the Holy. Divinity does not have to be defined in the singular.

The Gospel evidence of the first coming of Jesus provides clues to what we might see reflected in the mirror today: a teacher — Jesus’ life was the ultimate lesson plan. An inspiring leader, turning accepted wisdom on its head. Someone courageous unto death, with reserves of passion and energy.

So, let’s get to the soul of the matter. Question 1: Are you male or female? Let us agree to either; there is nothing sacred in suggesting that disenfranchising half of creation was God’s plan.

Question 2: Are you famous? It is tempting to answer with a big name: Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dag Hammarskjöld, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, all servants of God who lived large lives. And all dead. Surely, the question implies vital reality?

The current list of worthy candidates might include those living and writing in faith: Marcus Borg, Barbara Brown Taylor, our United Church of Canada moderators, Mary Jo Leddy. Perhaps Rabbi Michael Lerner? With God’s penchant for making a point, who is to say that Jesus would not be a Jew (again!), a Muslim, a Zoroastrian?

In this era of celebrity, we might think in terms of big-deed philanthropy and suggest Bono or Bill Gates. Putting your money and your talent to good works also imitates Christ.

But I choose to respond, “No, not famous.” The reflection is not a face you’ll find on television. In my life as a congregant and worship leader, I’ve learned that it is ordinary people acting in faith who perform the extraordinary deeds that look suspiciously like miracles.

Perhaps the mirror shows the couple in their 70s who source and cook 30 turkeys annually for homeless people, remain tireless cheerleaders for generations of new ministers, visit the forgotten in seniors’ facilities and send birthday cards to every child ever baptized at their font.

Or maybe it reveals the teens who come weekly to youth group with dreams and questions, believing against the secular tsunami of popular culture that the rebel Jesus is an agent of change.

Or the woman of 85 whose list of ailing friends grows longer each day. She researches their favourite recipes, seeks ingredients, lovingly prepares and serves a last supper, knowing that though the food remains largely uneaten, the gesture provides nourishment for that final earthly journey.

Let’s not forget the young married couple who foster a youth from a neglectful family. He tests their patience by skipping school. They love him anyway. He lets them down by breaking rules and landing in youth court. They love him anyway. He steals from them. They love him anyway. He graduates from high school and they hug him with tears of joy and hope unending. Because they love him, he just might defy the odds.

And then there’s the minister who is developing an ecologically conscious theology in harmony with the Gospel and respectful of all God’s creatures. He might well believe that I neglected the pivotal question in my theological game: vegetable, animal or mineral? The answer might allow for the possibility that the planet we are slowly crucifying is itself the second coming, and the reflection of the dwindling ice field in Arctic waters is the face of Jesus.

Any of the above “ordinary” people are worthy of finding the eyes of Christ in their reflections. They truly try to follow Jesus’ life lessons. Our Gospel, shorn of metaphor, is a list of small good deeds: Feeding and healing those in need. Listening, comforting, offering praise. Loving the unlovable. Small acts combine to form a portrait of a man who saved the world. Whether you choose to believe that Jesus did so by dying or by living seems irrelevant to those who seek, not merely to worship, but to follow, to paraphrase Janet Silman.

And if I deliberately paint that reflection with these faces I know, it is because it raises the slim possibility that the eyes in the mirror might also be my own. And that is a useful goal for a life lived in faith.

Rev. Lee Simpson is a minister in Lunenburg, N.S.


Rev. Lee Simpson is a writer in Lunenburg, N.S. New posts of YBN will appear every other Friday. You can also check out a short documentary about Lee at http://www.ucobserver.org/video/2014/04/ybn/.
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