This past Christmas I was given a gift by one of the members of the church. The gift references an on-going joke about the label we have given to our large, air-filled, outdoor nativity scene. I don’t know where he found it, I don’t know why he was even looking for it, but this Christmas I received my own Inflatable Jesus. Now as much as I love my Inflatable Jesus, I have to say that I equally loved the box he came in. In bold type the box calls me to “Inflate him, play with him, pray with him.” (Interesting how playing seems more important than praying.) In heavenly clouds, it is declared that this Jesus is “always there for me,” and that he “never judges.” Of course, the proof that all this can be trusted is Jesus’ own miraculous demonstration of floating on water!
Inflatable Jesus is very safe. After all, he doesn’t actually have eyes. Because of this he can never look into my life. He has no lips to speak, thus as the box declared, there is no judgement with Inflatable Jesus. He looks serene and presentable. Inflatable Jesus simply sits upon my shelf, noticeable but out of the way. He has no power and is filled with nothing more than my own hot air. And if the time comes whereby Jesus crowds my life too much, well I can just simply put him back in the box and forget all about him.
When we read the Gospels, we are constantly presented with a Jesus who is anything but safe. Jesus challenged the prideful assumptions of the people before him. He exposed the dark and hidden things of people’s lives. Jesus spoke of love, grace, and acceptance, but also of sin, hell, and judgement. He called people to pray but also to repentance. Jesus cared deeply, but also condemned attitudes and actions that went against the rule of God’s Kingdom. In addressing those who lived outside the bounds of religious respectability his language was filled with words of love and forgiveness. Yet, to those who too often only cared for the accolades of the world, Jesus called them blind guides, spiritual zombies, and hard-hearted hypocrites.
Inflatable Jesus, placed upon my shelf, reminds me that I do not want a Jesus who is safe and hollow. It reminds me of that scene from C.S. Lewis’ book, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, when the children first learn about Aslan—the King of Narnia. Mr. Beaver describes to the children that Aslan is a lion—the Great Lion in fact. To this Susan asks a very important question: “Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a Lion. Mr. Beaver responds, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But He’s good. He’s the King.’
We never grow spiritually if we want a safe Jesus. A safe Jesus will only tell us what we want to hear. A safe Jesus will never confront us or challenge us. A safe Jesus will never call us to do anything uncomfortable, never present us with the risk of faith. A safe Jesus is simply there to make us happy, and speaks only in the rhetoric of self-approval. Because of this, a safe Jesus can never heal, and will never transform. A safe Jesus will never lead us into awe-producing and life-changing experiences of God’s own presence. Because ultimately, a safe Jesus is not good. Safe Jesus in not King, and certainly not The Lord.
But a Jesus who is King will speak into our lives and expose attitudes and habits that keep us from fully entering into the wonderful goodness of God. A Jesus who is King will call us to live outside of ourselves and to put down the assumptions we carry—about who is in or out, who is good or bad. A Jesus who is King will ask us to follow wherever the love of God calls us. A Jesus who is King calls us to hold onto him even when things don’t make sense, or we feel that they are beyond us. A Jesus who is King calls us to recognize that life is not just about the pursuit of our own petty pleasures, thus we need to keep our eyes focused upon him and his work in our lives.
The Jesus we see in scripture, the Jesus who is unsafe but needed in our lives, does not come to us simply to make us happy. Rather, he comes to make us holy. And to do that he confronts us. He confronts things that we don’t often talk about, or even like to think about. He uncovers the echoes of our own stubbornness and hypocrisy. In the blaring, and sometimes uncomfortable fullness of his divine love, we are often challenged to be transformed by his presence.
We are always in a dangerous place spiritually when we think that we have Jesus all figured out, or that the ways of Jesus will easily fall into our own expectations. Eventually we need to ask ourselves the question: do I want a Jesus who is safe, or a Jesus who is the saviour? Yes, Jesus’ words, and his activity in our lives can make us feel uncomfortable. But as much as Jesus challenges us, these things are for the sole purpose of imbedding us deeply in the healing grace of His unending love. This loves calls us to new life. It calls us outside of ourselves. It calls us to change.
So let us put away safe Jesus—a Jesus who smiles, pats us on the back and is empty on the inside. Let us do away with him so we can embrace the one with the awesome presence to challenge, heal and transform.