Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Condescending King

I had a thought recently (well, many, but we'll stick with this one for now...) that being Catholic is a truly marvelous thing. The particularly beautiful thing to me right now is simple: perspective.

Perspective is important. In the old parable of the four blind men and the elephant, none of the men knew the whole picture - they didn't have perspective. They were caught in the immediate and the immanent, and so the big picture was lost to them. How easy it is to fall into the same trap, and would that being Catholic were enough to inoculate and defend against it! Yet today I am grateful for one particular perspective which the Catholic Church offers, and has offered for two millennia.

The film Dogma1 popularized the statue of "Buddy Christ," whose disarming grin and winning thumbs up grace the top of this post. This statue was introduced in the movie to revamp the Church's image, to be more hip and modern. It also seems to be the icon of "new" christianity. Smile! Jesus loves you! Everyone's okay just as they are, and don't you dare judge anything they do because Jesus said judging was bad, and that's just who they are and Jesus loves everyone!

There's a wishy-washy component to much of "modern" Christianity (conservative and progressive alike) which can tend to see Christ almost exclusively in His humanity, or as a good teacher. There are some (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) who go so far as to allow Christ to be in some way equated to Mohammed or the Buddha - prophets and teachers. I even heard a regularly Mass-going Catholic state that Jesus's purpose for coming to the world was to teach.

The thing is, there's a scandal in christianity. There's a deep dark secret that we are so ashamed of, that we don't talk about because it makes us nervous around our hip friends. Jesus isn't like the Buddha. Jesus isn't like Mohammed. He is not some really good man who said very holy things and lived a holy life and was nice to everyone.

He. Is. God.

But Jeremiah, "You call me Rabbi, and Lord, and rightly so..."
Yes, I know.
My problem with this thought, this simplification to the Good Teacher is not so much that it is wrong about His teaching, but that it fails to give us the proper perspective.

So the challenge is this: Is your Christ a friend who happens to be King, or a King who has stooped down to become one with you?

The reason that the Catholic Church builds beautiful Cathedrals, Basilicas, Shrines, and Grottos, the reason why she captures the history of salvation in gorgeous stained glass to make it accessible to the illiterate, the reason why she commissions statues and icons and paintings and music, is because we have a condescending God King. Condescension - "with to come down."

We sacrifice,
build beautiful temples to His glory,
bow down and kneel before Him,
because this... ...became this... ...for the sake of a slave.

That Jesus Christ is King of the Universe is undeniable, and may every knee in heaven, on earth, and below the earth bend, and let the earth tremble in the presence of her King.

That Jesus Christ is the intimate friend and brother of any and all who come to Him is undeniable, and what a friend we have in Jesus! What a kinship, that we should be adopted into His family!

But is He friend first, or king first?

It matters.

[1] Dogma (1999) - a horrible waste of your time and money which flirts with humor occasionally. I have watched it. Once. With jaw clenched, and muttering, "this is so wrong, this is so wrong... Why didn't they get any of this right?" pretty much the entire time. Seriously, the only part I haven't forcibly blocked from my mind is the scene wherein the angel of death kills an entire boardroom of executives, with the sole survivor being the secretary, who is the only one innocent enough to not deserve death. He then almost kills her for not saying "bless you" when he sneezed. I thought that was hilarious. The rest of the movie is garbage as far as I'm concerned.

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