When I first met the person of Jesus, I had an experience I cannot deny and will never forget. But it was looking for him and finding him in the gospels that upended my world and altered my life’s course forever.
I had grown up with the stories of how Jesus was born a helpless babe and how he died, crucified. Sunday School flannelgraph presentations of his life between birth and crucifixion showed a blue-eyed, perfectly-coiffed, otherworldly man of European descent wearing a dress, usually surrounded by sheep – or children. I felt sentimental about him at times and even got emotional but had no idea why or what any of it meant. I never learned the explosive power of his life until many years later, when I began to read the stories for myself.
Since I was a woman set to self-destruct at any moment, dead religion wasn’t going to cut it for me. I had to find the authentic, living, burning Christ in these pages if I was to have any hope at all. I don’t know what I expected to find there, but I didn’t expect to fall in love.
As I started to read, I found a Jesus who shows gentle mercy to a woman who had been caught in the act of committing adultery – a crime punishable by stoning. Unintimidated by the circle of self-righteous legalists baying for her blood, Jesus silences and dismisses them with a few words. Left alone with the trembling woman, he quietly refuses to condemn her and, instead, invites her into a life of freedom. Another broken, sinful woman bursts into a room of astonished religious leaders and passionately throws herself at Jesus’ feet. She washes his feet with her tears, dries them with her long hair, kisses them repeatedly, and anoints him with expensive perfume as an act of worship. Jesus explains to the judgmental men surrounding her that she has been forgiven for her many sins, which is why she has shown him such wild love. All your sins are forgiven, he told the weeping woman. Your faith in me has given you life. Now you may leave and walk in the ways of peace.
Tears soaked the page as I began to believe Jesus could forgive someone like me; that I, too, could find the way of peace.
I kept reading and found a Jesus who values little children, who says let them come and takes them in his arms, dirty and snot-nosed, no doubt. This Jesus would open his arms to all children – refugees, immigrants, orphans, slaves, those considered the least of the least. He would never callously turn them away – and I began to believe he would accept me.
I continued to read and found a Jesus who makes a whip out of cords and, filled with holy anger, overturns the tables of the moneychangers who are exploiting the poor. I found a brilliant Jesus who fears no man, who is no respecter of persons, who uses his brain and never holds back in debates with religious leaders.
I found a Jesus who is compassion incarnate, a man whose heart contracts convulsively at every sight of crying human need. A man who weeps. I found a Jesus who can raise the dead one minute and kneel in humility the next, washing the dusty feet of lowly fishermen.
The more I read, the more I wondered – who is this beautiful, weeping God-man who touches lepers, hangs out with scandalous sinners, and heals a blind man by spitting in the dirt to make mud – which he then rubs on the man’s eyes? Who is this that commands nature – calming storms, walking on water, turning water to wine – and tells the most creative, simple stories to teach the most profound truths?
Who is this that embodies the upside-down kingdom of God, breaking through every barrier created by culture, race, gender, generation, and socioeconomic status, speaking Truth in Love to all who will listen?
Who is this weeping God-man who kisses the face of betrayal, who doesn’t fight back when treated unjustly, who loves and forgives unconditionally when he is tortured and finally murdered?
Who is he, and what does he want with me?
The stories captured my imagination; the person captured my heart.
I decided I could follow this Jesus.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. Psalms 73:25