I found Him in countless cathedrals in Europe.
His robes perfectly draped, His head tilted at a specific angle, smooth white hands open but untouchable. His cold marble eyes stared above my head, looking at nothing, blind. Eight feet tall and untouched by time, the white stone at His head perfect and glossy, and His feet dirty and worn from human touch.
“What have you seen here?” I whispered, the question hanging in silence and then floating away in the cold like my visible breath.
I found Him in paintings and relics. Oils and acrylics, white paint on dark canvas. A glow behind His head. Blue-eyed, brown-eyed, gentle and distant. Portrayed as a fat rosy baby in the arms of His mother, and as a gaunt bloody man with desperate eyes cast toward heaven. His skin feels like canvas here, the incarnate Saviour, flat, in phthalo blue and raw umber.
I sat across from her as she shared with me about the death of her son. He had all the talent in the world and he died in his 20s, broken by alcoholism and helpless to the addictions he had formed. She shared with me that she would hear him come in late at night and would hear him weeping from his bed. She could hear him, in the still of the night, calling out to Jesus. His life was falling apart, and he didn’t know how to fix it.
She told me that she believed that he was in heaven, even though he died in the midst of his addictions. I rolled that over in my mind. What did I really think? Could the truth of God’s Word support her speculations? Or was it just thoughts to bring comfort?
And I remembered the verse in Matthew where Jesus tells his disciples that some will come to him and list the great things they did in His name. And that Jesus will say to them that He never knew them.
I thought, in that moment, about what Jesus means. About the boundless grace He displayed during His time on earth. About the love and the compassion that moved him to tears for people that no one else thought to notice.
And I thought to myself, this young man understood the grace of Jesus better than I ever will. He understood what it is to fail over and over, and to come to the very end of yourself and have nothing to give. In those moments, Jesus still met him. He knew Jesus. He knew the character of Jesus because he relied on grace.
Some present Jesus as untouchable – a relic that must be kept behind glass. He is to be looked at and prayed to but never touched. Never marred by our dirty fingerprints or bothered by our smell or our tears or our sins. I don’t want that Jesus.
Some present Jesus as a priest who must never hear of our wrongdoings. He would be disappointed in us if He knew what we did. He’s tired of granting forgiveness to us. I don’t want that Jesus, either.
Some present Jesus as white marble – present and looming but unhearing. Cold to the touch, staring off in the distance, unfeeling. I don’t want that Jesus.
I want the Jesus who stopped in the middle of a crowd to find the little guy in a tree, or the woman who was gross and sick. I want the Jesus who touched the scabbed, broken skin of those with leprosy. I want the Jesus who didn’t turn his eyes away from a woman caught in sexual sin. I want the Jesus who wept real, salty, warm tears at the death of his friend.
I want the Jesus who listens to our aggrieved cries after we’ve failed. The One who takes us back time and time again. The Jesus who listens to us promise never to fail again, and welcomes us home when we break that promise.
I want the real Jesus. Not the one made of cold marble, not the one locked in a canvas. The Jesus with dirty hands. The one who came to seek and to save. The one who ate, who walked, who wept. The one who laughed with His friends around a bonfire. The one who hid on a mountainside to grieve the death of His friend. The one who shocked people over and over with radical grace. The one who loved without bound.
The one who met my friend’s drug-addicted son night after night in his bedroom. The one who meets me where I am time and time again in my failures, in my doubt.
That’s my Jesus.