The only time I’ve been booed by an audience, was when I was explaining to a large crowd the story of Jesus wrapping a towel round his waist and washing his disciples’ feet. The crowd, mostly Muslim, thought this was an action quite unbecoming the dignity of a prophet.
That’s a critical insight into the ongoing Charlie Hebdo story.
Because if God’s messengers have so high a dignity that their reputation must be protected at all costs, then the affront caused by a cartoon is explicable. If Muhammed is the most beautiful and perfect human being, then any depiction of him must fail and be banned. And if Jesus is a prophet, then crucifixion is too vile a death for him. He must be translated into heaven without suffering.
But hear Isaiah:
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.(Is. 53:2-4)
That is the role and reputation that Jesus knowingly chose to adopt, and lovingly shouldered. Being mocked is his chosen pathway in life and death.
So how should you want to protect the reputation of Jesus, when you hear him being mocked in public?
The answer has to be, that nothing anyone could do today would be a fraction of the mockery heaped on him when he hung on the cross. Nothing that his most spiteful or decadent critic could say or draw could be worse than that.
And the reason that we don’t leap to protect him from mockery, by law or by violence, is that we know we once found ourselves in that crowd too. As we sing on Sundays, ‘Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers.’ Each of us has had to say, ‘I am the chief of mockers, the chief of scoffers.’ We were the people who spat on Jesus – J’étais Charlie.
Has someone drawn a filthy cartoon of him on a front page? There’s been worse: Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed (placarded, billboarded) as crucified (Gal 3:1). Has someone made a joke of him, or used his name as a swearword? There’s been worse: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’ (Gal 3:13)
Someone could draw a picture of a dunce’s cap on the crucified Jesus, and a Christian will reply, ‘Is that all you’ve got? You should see what I’ve done to him!’
And he endured that precisely for scoffers like us. The Lord of the universe allowing himself to be mocked, spat at, flogged, and killed for our sake, is our most precious demonstration of his sacrifice love (Mk 10:34) As Paul wrote,
Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
1 Tim 1:13-16
If the issue of those cartoons and press freedom comes up, don’t try to protect Jesus’ reputation – he knew all that was going to happen to him, and he embraced it gladly. And don’t pretend that you’ve never mocked him, because that’s saying he didn’t die for you. Instead, explain his glorious suffering servant love for his blasphemers.
But expect to be booed.
Because there’s more. This is our lot too:
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt. 5:10-12). (Notice that – prophets should expect to be mocked).
- Christian – do you rejoice when you are insulted and mocked?
- Christian, are you praying for blasphemers (cartoonists and jihadists) to become believers in Jesus?
- Preacher, leader – are you trying to protect your own reputation to avoid insults?