The Gospels are amazing at telling us what Jesus said, but they’re not so hot when it comes to telling us how he said it.
If it’s true that 93% of in-person communication is non-verbal, the words attributed to Jesus only give us a small part of the picture of what He was communicating. Our tone of voice, facial expressions and body language speak volumes.
The Gospels rarely give us insight into these vital components of the message, so we’re left to our imaginations in these areas. And since Jesus had a finite amount of time on earth to do very important and serious business, I think we tend to default to the assumption that Jesus was always serious.
Dignified. Austere. Aloof. Sombre. Dutiful. Detached.
But at the risk of making God in my own image, I wonder if Jesus actually smiled a lot. Did He often have a twinkle in his eye when He rebuked or admonished people – like a patient parent playfully and encouragingly challenging his bullheaded children’s assumptions, in order to help them to connect the dots on an important life lesson?
Did Jesus, who ripped Himself out of the Trinity and chose to live an infinitely inferior mortal existence, stoically endure life on earth? Or is it possible that He actually enjoyed it?
Since Jesus was God, He knew how precious and wondrous and beautiful our mortal, human life is, and He knew what it meant to live life abundantly. He knew, better than anyone, that joy doesn’t have to be dependent on life’s momentary circumstances, and that mortal life is fleeting – so you might as well enjoy it.
I also know that He loves each one of us, so could the Saviour have savoured every interaction He experienced during His 33 short years on earth?
Think of your favorite, most engaged and engaging teacher from grade school, high school or post-secondary school, on her best day. The day when she’s teaching material she finds completely fascinating, and she’s elated at the prospect of illuminating that lesson to her students.
I remember some of my teachers being almost giddy on those kinds of days. It was sorta geeky, but it was also endearing – and infectious.
Could Jesus have been like that? Is it possible that during His ministry, Jesus was having fun?
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I know this happens right after Jesus has learned that John the Baptist – his cousin, colleague and opening act – was just killed, and right after Jesus spent the day teaching, and then feeding, more than 5,000 people. So obviously, Jesus is tired and sad and maybe even a little overwhelmed by the day’s events. He might even feel a little bit hard done by. He finally gets some one-on-one time with the Father, and then He goes to meet the disciples, who are crossing the lake in a boat.
What was His expression like as He stepped onto the water? Dignified and sombre? Stoic and purpose-filled? I’m not sure.
I wonder if even He thought walking on water was pretty cool, and was was grinning from ear to ear. And when His disciples saw Him and understandably freaked out, I wonder if His response, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid’ might have carried some of that geeky giddiness I mentioned above.
Then, when Peter asks Jesus to invite him onto the water, is Jesus smiling when he says, ‘Come’? He’s got to be immensely proud of his protege, even knowing what’s about to happen.
Then, when Peter realizes the gravity of the situation (literally) and sinks, Jesus saves him and says, ‘You of little faith. Why did you doubt?’, there’s probably some disappointment in His tone, but there’s also some encouragement – like when we’re learning to skate and almost find our feet, but psyche ourselves out and end up with a bruised bottom. Our instructor might tell us what we did wrong, but (hopefully) buried in their words is a ‘You’re soooo close. You can do this. I believe in you – you just need to believe in you.’ tone.
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Jesus’ Seven Woes speech to the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law in Matthew 23:13-39 probably had a more confrontational vibe, but is He truly seething with venom as He calls His listeners a brood of vipers in Verse 33? Or could there be some theatrics in Jesus’ behavior, like a sports coach lambasting his players for falling short of their potential? After all, the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were supposed to be God’s A-Team, and they were woefully off track (literally). (Watch the famous Lollygaggers scene from Bull Durham to see what I mean.)
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I’ve always been a little unnerved by Jesus’ famous ‘If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out’ line in Mark 9:47, and by the ‘throw them into the sea’ stuff a few verses earlier.
I think it’s safe to assume that Jesus is using hyperbole in Mark 9:42-48, but I also wonder if he’s not also dripping with sarcasm during this exchange. (He was Jewish, after all.)
Could He even be laughing as He rattles off this increasingly drastic (you could even say ‘melodramatic’) rant?
Humour is a helpful tool for making your point in the 21st Century, when our culture often suggests that finding something funny is not incompatible with taking it seriously.
Were things so different in the 1st Century?
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I could go on, but I think you get the point: Jesus may not have been a laugh-a-minute prankster or a happy-go-lucky goofball, but He probably wasn’t always stern, serious and sombre, either.
OK, Baldy. Fair enough. But so what?
But maybe, in light of our call to be the body of Christ – or the hands and feet of Jesus to the world, as some describe it – I think our view of Christ’s demeanour affects our demeanour as we represent Him.
If we allow ourselves to think Jesus had fun as He carried out His ministry, could that lead to us having more fun as we carry out ours? And could that make us more effective ministers and ambassadors for Christ?
At the very least, I want to invite you to question your assumptions about Jesus’ posture, tone and facial expressions as you reflect on what He says in the Gospels, and see what God does with that.
How would it alter your picture of Jesus, and of yourself, to imagine Him with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye? Is He inviting you to experience – and exhibit – more joy as you strive to follow Him?
Peace be with you.
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Author’s note: I’m not entirely pleased with the photos of Jesus I used for this post, but they were the best I could find at illustrating the vibe I was after.
I’ll unhesitatingly concede that each of them could have been captioned ‘Caucasian Jesus’, which is almost certainly not reflective of reality – considering that He was a First-Century Jewish man.
The point of today’s post, though, wasn’t to challenge the assumption that Jesus was white, but to challenge the assumption that Jesus was serious. I think the ‘Jesus was white’ assumption definitely needs challenging, and I may get there at some point. But for now, here are a few other explorations of that topic from other authors, to tide you over: