It hit me recently, actually while I was speaking before a large group of people, that to most people nowadays Jesus would not be a very likeable person.
So, as I often do, I just came out with it before my listeners.
"You know what?" I asked them.
"I have a hunch that if you didn't believe that Jesus died to keep you out of hell, you really wouldn't much like him."
My audience was very kind. I even heard an "Amen" or two.
Most looked at me with a strange, thoughtful gaze moving across their faces.
I mean really, what's to like about Jesus?
Think about it. Think about his life, his words, his actions, his companions and his whereabouts.
He said such uncomfortable things about wealth, greed, forgiveness, peace, turning cheeks, giving to the poor, who you should invite to dinner, faith, government, sex and religion.
I mean, he hit all the polite dinner conversation, must-avoid, hot buttons.
He was the kind of guy who could split a church in one service!
And the people he hung out with, oh my goodness!
Prostitutes--think about that for a moment. What could the media do with his little black book?
Drunks--I mean the guy went where the riff-raff gathered and he didn't sound particularly 12-stepish in his conversations there! Actually, he used these dinner parties to castigate the moral majority!
He ate with Gentiles, for heaven's sake! He drank after Samaritans! He touched the rotting flesh of lepers and taught those who followed him to do the same.
Can you translate his actions into today's language?
He ate with Muslims, treating them as fast friends.
He drank after immigrant laborers who were "illegal" and he made it clear in the process that no one God made could ever be considered "illegal."
He touched the bleeding sores of homosexual males who were dying of AIDS.
He owned nothing and told his followers that they should divest for the sake of the poor.
He lived dependent on others and on God.
He rattled the bureaucratic hierarchies of organized religion.
He wouldn't have liked church much, if at all. I expect church wouldn't have appreciated him much either!
With Jesus, people always trumped tradition, and in some cases even the black and white, book chapter and verse of the Law of Moses!
He included, front and center as key players in his movement, the poor, the oppressed, the left out and left behind. I mean, he brought the scandalous to church!
He forgave those who were dead-to-rights, without a doubt guilty. A convicted thief at the hour of his execution. A woman from the street, with a reputation to match, who came to wash his feet.
A woman caught in bed with a man who was not her husband was excused, while her accusers were sent home to consider their own issues!
He talked about setting the prisoners free, liberating the captives, turning the economic system upside-down.
He elevated woman, considered to be not much more than chattel, to positions of leadership and importance.
He did not discriminate.
He consistently spoke truth to power.
And, they killed him because of who he was, what he said, where he went and who he loved.
Jesus was lots of things, but to his world and to the powers that ran it, he was anything but likeable.
Like I say, if we didn't think he died to save our souls from hell, I'm not really sure who would like the guy either.
Strange savior. Or, was he?