Jesus poses this question to the inner circle of his disciples shortly before his crucifixion. It’s what a writer or scientist would call an elegant question, one that accomplishes much with very few words. This is also a teaching question. You can’t understand Jesus without first determining exactly who he is, so your answer makes all the difference in the world. The Twelve come back with all sorts of responses from the general public–John the Baptist, Elijah, a great prophet, etc, etc.
“But what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
Astonishingly, Peter gets the answer right: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He commits an epic fail a couple of verses later when he totally misses the point of why Jesus is, but that’s another story for another day.
This week, we’re considering Matt Mikalato’s clever little satire, Imaginary Jesus, in which we encounter all the wrong ways we answer Jesus’ question today, and in the process, create innumerable idols that have less to do with Jesus than they do with us, because we’ve created them in our own image. If we’re to understand Jesus, we have to let go of our comfortable stereotypes of Him in favor of the often uncomfortable truth–uncomfortable because it demands that we change. Here’s a related comment from Elisabeth Scalia, aka “The Anchoress,” a Catholic blogger, who says it better than I ever could:
A paradox of faith is that only by giving away the judgments and notions can we attain anything like Godly wisdom. Only by saying, “I surrender my notions of what would make me happy, to wholly accept yours,” can we hope to find true happiness and that peace “which defies all understanding.” Jesus went through an awful lot to demonstrate the power (and value) of “thy will be done,” and yet, we still struggle with it; we still resist, and want our own way. Anne LaMott likes to quote a priest-friend of hers: “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
Or, taken another way, “you can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that the plan God has for the world is, by happy coincidence, precisely aligned with your positions.”
The saints, from the Acts of the Apostles and throughout history, tell us differently. So do Mary, and Joseph. And David. And Jacob. And Abraham.
Our thorns in the flesh are not arbitrary miseries; they are personal, individual and valuable challenges. Our crowns are made from them.
I loved the way Matt made himself the protagonist of this story, the knucklehead who thinks he’s the only guy in the world who’s gotten Jesus right–so right that he can actually see Him and interact with Him on a day-to-day basis. It’s a fun, lighthearted tale. We’re treated to the quirks and foibles of life in Portland, Oregon; a side trip to the Holy Land, circa 33 A.D.; a talking donkey with an above-average ration of common sense; and a whole slew of Imaginary Jesuses–from Magic Eight-Ball Jesus (who has only fourteen possible answers–nine positive, three negative, and two indeterminate) to Testosterone Jesus (built like a weightlifter, but sweet and vulnerable on the inside), to Perpetually Angry Jesus (the name says it all). You’ll probably recognize most of them.
Sadly, Matt is us. Matt is me. His illusions are shattered over the course of his journey across time, space, and Portland, and it left me pondering how many times I’ve done the same thing, presuming that Jesus and I are in agreement, that He sees things pretty much the same way I do, and that the world would be a better place if everybody would just get on the bus with Jesus and me.
However, Jesus doesn’t promise to see things our way. He tells us, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Being a follower of Jesus means becoming conformed to His image, not the other way around, and that’s the central message of Imaginary Jesus.
There’s another question at the heart of this story, a poignant question arising from a personal tragedy that drives Matt’s search for the real Jesus. After all the Imaginary Jesuses fall like tenpins and dissolve like smoke, leaving only the real Jesus, Matt poses his question again. He doesn’t get a precise answer, nor the answer he expected, but he does get an answer that ultimately satisfies him.
Is there a happy ending? You betcha.
In the final analysis, Imaginary Jesus is a personal struggle of faith cloaked in fiction. It’s a powerful tale, and perhaps more effective because of its humor and irreverence. It also takes a lot of guts to place your doubts, fears, and shortcomings on display in such a public forum, even in caricature. Kudos and thanks to Mr. Mikalatos for doing that and for telling us a fun, creative story along the way.
Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at what the other folks on the Tour are saying about Imaginary Jesus, but that shouldn’t stop you from checking out their reviews yourself, right now!
>>This review is based upon a copy of the book provided to me free of charge by the publisher, a courtesy I appreciate, but which does not guarantee my recommendation. I strive to evaluate every book I review purely on its intrinsic merits.<<
Purchase Imaginary Jesus – http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1414335636/
Author blog – http://mikalatos.blogspot.com/
Author Web site – http://imaginaryjesus.com/
R. L. Copple
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Rachel Starr Thomson