It almost sounds like a bunch of really bad "B" movies, doesn't it? "Revenge of the Hippie Jesus!" "Hippie Jesus Returns!" "Hippie Jesus and Friends Sing Kumbaya!" It's enough to make any self-respecting Christian want to slam their head in a door. In this post, my goal is to slay the myth of the dreaded Hippie Jesus.
In my first post, "How Did We Get Here?", I referenced this pervasive myth briefly. While it's easy to demonstrate that this is an inaccurate portrayal of Christ, it's also easy to understand how this myth came about. You see, Hippie Jesus is this safe character who makes us feel warm and fuzzy. He says great things about not judging others which we can take as a green light to do whatever we want and boldly declare, "You're not allowed to judge me for this, Hippie Jesus said so!" The temptation is strong to take the money and run so to speak. Let's take the words of Jesus that make us feel good about ourselves and ignore the rest. But in reality, Jesus is dangerous and subversive and He takes us way out of our comfort zone. This man claimed to be the Son of God, the Word made flesh for crying out loud! There is nothing safe about that, and it's either true or he is in fact, a very bad man. Read the following passage from the Gospel of Matthew:
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father." -Matthew 16:13-17
Plain as day, Jesus not only affirms Peter's statement but informs him that it is Divine revelation. We cannot sit on the fence about Christ. His own words declare that He was not just another man with some wise words. This demands of us a choice to either accept this as truth or reject it, but it does not allow for a middle ground. This is not an "I'm okay, you're okay, let's have a group hug" moment. This is a "You're God walking among us or insane or evil, and pardon me but I need to go change my pants" moment.
Moving on, let's look at the conditions of discipleship Jesus lays out in the Gospel of Mark:
He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his life? Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels. - Mark 8:34-38
Now let's be clear about something here. We rarely hear about crucifixion these days and are most accustomed to thinking about taking up one's cross in a figurative sense. But in those days, the cross struck terror into people's hearts. This was an instrument of torture and the most horrific way to die. For Jesus to tell people to take up their cross and follow him was nothing short of madness back then. Are you feeling warm and fuzzy yet?
In his brilliant work of art, The Catholicism Series, Father Robert Barron points out a short but telling portion of Mark's Gospel:
They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus went ahead of them. They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. - Mark 10:32
Why would anyone be afraid of Hippie Jesus? If he made his way from town to town preaching nothing but love and forgiveness what is there to be afraid of? If he truly was just another great teacher among many, why fear? It's like suggesting people could be afraid of the Dalai Lama.
For the sake of being thorough, let's throw one more in here. The following is a passage from the Gospel of John in which Jesus calls Himself the bread of life:
"Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink..." - John 6:47-55
As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God." - John 6:66-69
What Jesus said to those following Him was so shocking and offensive they walked away, all but the Twelve. They walked away after seeing Jesus work miracles. Imagine you watched a man raise the dead and then being so appalled at his words you just went home. This is incidentally the Gospel passage used to prove the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but that is a subject for another post.
Now I don't want to send you running to the opposite end of the spectrum here either. The takeaway message is not that Hippie Jesus isn't real, but real Jesus is super scary and we need to run for our lives. But we certainly must dismiss the idea of Jesus as an ancient Care Bear. As the always spot on Father Larry Richards puts it, "God is not Barney." Are we all beloved children of God made in His image? Absolutely. Now, for those of you with children, do you love your children? Of course you do. Do you set rules and limits for your children and do you punish them with they misbehave? Of course you do. Now if you have the sense to do that, undoubtedly out of love for your children, would not the God of the universe do the same? It is because God loves us that He wants more for us and demands more from us.
See, the myth of the Hippie Jesus creates this deadly circular (il)logic. We say that Jesus loves us just the way we are no matter what. Because He loves us the way we are no matter what, He does not demand we change our ways. Because He does not demand we change our ways, He is just like any other historical figure with friendly suggestions for humanity and is therefore not the Son of God. Since He is not the Son of God, we don't need to change for Him. And round and round we go.
But we do need to change and Christ demands this of us. You can't possibly read the Gospel and come away thinking that you don't. Let me put it this way: if you know Jesus, especially if you came to know Him late in life like I did, and it didn't change you in a dramatic way, you're doing something very wrong. And what message does this send to those around you? If you call yourself a Christian, yet there is nothing remarkable about you, don't you send the message that it doesn't matter? Don't you add one more reason for people to think all religions are the same and what we believe is not important? Don't be afraid, my friends. Don't be afraid to stand out and look strange and be called names. Remember:
"If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, 'No slave is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me...Whoever hates me also hates my Father." -John 15:18-21,23
Until next time, may God bless you.