I recently read an article that contained the following quote. “All intersections point to Jesus. We don’t know about His personal life – I believe that Jesus was Queer, Black and Poor.” Okay…
Preachers love to speak metaphorically about Jesus. Check out a few sermons and you’ll hear him referred to as “the Rose of Sharon,” the “Lily of the Valley,” the “Lamb,” or the “Cosmic Cowboy.” The list is unending.
We do that to help people get a glimpse of Jesus beyond what they can easily imagine. Metaphors help us get a wider feel for the whole of the Savior. Our views can be so narrow that we put him in a box, explaining away much of who he is. It somehow feels safer that way. It’s really quite dangerous, however.
The opening quote uses those modifiers for Jesus to help us understand he loves us all. He does so regardless of our sexual orientation, our skin pigment, or our financial status. Jesus identifies with all of us because it was OUR sin that was placed upon him at the cross. In that sense, he was black, white, queer, straight, rich, poor, a lamb and a flower (not to mention a cowboy).
Unfortunately, the opening quote was not presented as a metaphor. It was stated in such a way as to give the impression that Jesus was concretely queer, black, and poor. No Bible scholar (regardless of his or her theological stripe) would literally describe Jesus in that manner. It’s intellectually dishonest. We know he was a flesh and blood man. We know he was middle-eastern. We have a pretty good idea he was from a working class family. He wasn’t simply a walking metaphor or an inspirational man of fiction.
I understand what the guy was attempting to say (I think). Jesus’ cross was his intersection with all people and all of our sin. He was, however, a real time-space, historical being. He walked the earth in the first century (AD), actually spoke sentences (many of which are recorded in Scripture), and passed from this confined, earthly life after thirty-three years or so. To simply reduce him to a metaphor (or even a series of metaphors) does him a grave injustice.
“A real, historical Jesus is a necessity.”
It’s worse than that, however. If he is merely a metaphor, merely a nice thought or a good illustration, he is nothing. And, as the Apostle Paul once said, we are still in our sin (1 Corinthians 15:17). A real, historical Jesus is a necessity. If we reduce him to anything less, we’re doomed. Inspiration is great, but it only goes so far. We all need a flesh and blood Savior. We are reminded of that in a little thing we like to call Holy Communion.
Just to be fair, Jesus was not a straight, white, rich guy either. But to each of us, he’s our all-in-all—everything we need. But let’s not allow that to obscure the facts. We need him just as he is.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently the pastor of Smith Chapel in Great Falls, VA.]