On a recent Saturday, after a week of visiting colleges, my son Austin and I found ourselves with most of a day to kill before our return flight from Boston. The Red Sox were on the road. We’d already walked a fair piece of the Freedom Trail. So my friend Alan suggested we hit the Museum of Fine Arts and he’d drive up from Hartford to join us.
Austin has a thing for Monet (I’m not sure how many other painters he can even name), so after meeting up with Alan at the MFA’s front entrance, we headed for the European section. We began with the Impressionists and worked our way back through the galleries and centuries.
There were many kinds of works on display, but a recurring theme, room after room, was Christian suffering. We saw John the Baptist’s head being served up on a silver platter, Jesus being judged by the masses, Jesus being bound and quartered, Jesus being crucified, Jesus’ dead body in the arms of his followers and other such gory scenes.
After a few hours, when we’d had all the religious torture we could tolerate, we walked a few blocks up Huntington Avenue and found a spot for lunch.
Over burritos, tacos and quesadillas, we talked about the images we’d just seen. This led to a conversation about the recent unveiling of “The Judas Gospel” by the National Geographic Society, which led to a discussion of Easter’s approach, which led to a conversation about the notion of resurrection, which led Austin to suggest that if Jesus were to show up for the Second Coming, few would believe he was who he said he was-even if they did, few (self-professed Christians included) would like what he had to say.
Once we’d returned home, I still had Austin’s statement on the brain. So I went searching for an old newspaper column I’ve kept by Sydney J. Harris. Called, “If Christ Returned on Christmas,” it floats the notion of the Second Coming and asks such hard questions as:
“Would not the militants among us assail Him as a cowardly pacifist because He urges us not to resist evil?”
“Would not the nationalists among us attack Him as a dangerous internationalist because He tells us we are all of one flesh?”
“Would not the liberals among us dismiss Him as a dreamy vagabond because He advises us to take no thought for the morrow, to lay up no treasure upon earth?”
“Would not the ecclesiastics among us denounce Him as a ranting heretic because he cuts through the cords of ritual and commands us only to love God and our neighbors?”
“Would not the Puritans among us despise and reject Him because He eats and drinks with publicans and sinners, preferring the company of winebibbers and harlots to that of ‘respectable’ church members?”
“Would not the proud and important among us laugh at Him when He instructs the 12 disciples that he who would be ‘first’ should be the one to take the role of the least and serve all?”
“Would not each of us in his own way find some part of this man’s saying and doing to be so threatening to our ways of life, so much at odds with our rooted beliefs, that we could not tolerate Him for long?”
“I wonder,” Harris concludes.
So do I.
I wonder when elected officials here in Indiana spend my state tax dollars on court appeal after court appeal in a blatant political quest to permit prayers in Jesus’ name in the Indiana House of Representatives.
I could wonder that on constitutional grounds alone. But on theological grounds, the argument seems even stronger. It makes little sense, after all, to fight for the right to pray to Jesus in public when Jesus admonished his followers not to do that very deed.
“When you pray, be not like the pretenders, who prefer to pray in the synagogues and in the public square, in the sight of others,” said Jesus in Matthew 6:5-6. “In truth I tell you, that is all the profit they will have. But you, when you pray, go into your inner chamber and, locking the door, pray there in hiding to your Father, and your Father who sees you in hiding will reward you.”
In a New York Times op-ed piece this week, historian and author of “What Jesus Meant” Garry Wills said, “[Jesus] shocked people by his repeated violation of the external holiness code of his time, emphasizing that his religion was an internal matter of the heart.”
Well, if Jesus were to preach private
prayer in Indiana today, he’d not only
violate the external holiness code of our time, but he’d also likely have more than a few stones cast his way or, God forbid, accusations that he was a card carrying member of the ACLU.
Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.