Is Mel Gibson’s ‘Mad-Max Jesus’ from ‘The Passion of The Christ’ (2004) the real Jesus, withstanding incessant, vicious violence to come back for more? If Gibson uses John’s Gospel to see this Jesus, the movie ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ (1979) uses Luke’s Gospel to see its softly spoken, monotonous(?), one dimensional Jesus, played by Robert Powell. What of Scorsese’s colourful Christ in ‘The Last Temptation of The Christ’ (1988)?
Will The Real ‘Jesus’ please stand up? The ‘Inaugural World Congress of Sport & Christianity’ at York St John’s University (24th – 28th August) exercised soul and stretched thinking. Easily we fashion God in our image and mould Christ to fit our own agendas. ‘The Christ that overcomes all the odds to bounce back, rising from death to declare God’s glory’ can become the single issue ‘Competitive Christ’, who helps and celebrates winners but doesn’t reach down to help losers embrace and (in time) celebrate their loss. Then there’s the ‘Playful Christ’ who, with Father and Spirit ‘Play earth and universe into being’ and help us to simply enjoy exquisite simple, sporting moments when participation allows a sense of transcendence, heaven and earth merging, as we glimpse the beaming smile of God. In ‘Chariots of Fire’ Eric Liddell tells disapproving sister Jennie, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”
Truth is that, while all 4 Gospels help us imagine, identify and relate to God through Jesus, Jesus can never be contained or constrained by celluloid and human description. Jesus Christ is beyond understanding, yet also within our reach. “Come to me,” He says, “and I will give you rest… make you fishers of men… share life and living with you… etc.”
York Minster Cathedral’s special service, to celebrate the World Congress, had Anne Wafula Strike MBE wheelchair whizzing down the central aisle to join Linvoy Primus (ex-premiership footballer) at the front. By God’s Grace, through athletics Anne has managed to accept and transcend disability. She is an example of courage and commitment and is determined to challenge misconceptions about disability. Wife, mother and author, Anne confesses to being blessed and fortunate to have received such opportunities to shine the way she has.
In Christ, Anne found someone to sit with her and help her know she is loved by God. Disability does not define Anne’s identity, rather Christ’s love. Jesus helps her live every day as God’s gift. Anne and, Ex-Paralympic bronze medalist, Stuart Braye highlighted injustices of our society and world where people are denied the right to be born or deprived of the resources to become more ‘able’ in life and living.
We’re all somewhere on the disability scale (e.g. eye glasses, pills, fears, etc). Put more positively by Prof’ John Swinton, “Every one of us is ‘partly able’”. As Rio’s Paralympics start I’m challenged to view participants as ‘athletes in their own right’ not overcomers of disability, to sift patronising commentary like, “Despite their disability they managed to…”
What would the ‘Cerebral Palsied, Blind, Deaf or Intellectually Disabled Jesus’ look like? What film maker would take on such a project? Let’s not dodge the challenge, you and I are to be the movie makers! In our churches and communities, the Real Jesus is calling us to demonstrate His down-to-earth Love. Is the ‘Cerebral Palsied, Blind, Deaf or Intellectually Disabled Jesus’ at home in my church / community / sports club? Will The Real ‘Jesus’ please sit down?