Some years ago I was visiting Cadiz, in Spain, and I came across this painting of Jesus by Gabriel Benitez. The gaze stopped me dead in my tracks and at first, I didn’t even notice the cigarette in his hand.
I saw the peering eyes of the calloused handed Messiah with a cigarette through the window of a sculptor’s storefront studio. I immediately knew I had to have that painting, for it presented Jesus as a real character in the post-modern world.
Unlike the gloomy crucified Christ found in many old dark churches in Spain, this Christ was a man of the world. This was the Christ I imagined at the wedding feast of Cana in Galilee, where he turned water into the best wine so that the celebration could continue.
This was not a Christ I had ever seen in a church.
How could I? This Christ was too real, too mundane; too scruffy to be the delicate pious passive/aggressive Savior who demanded fearful guilt infused allegiance to dogma and creed.
During that trip, I got in touch with the chilling effect I experienced going into old dark churches with bloodied Christ figures on crucifixes, and the need to get out of those places. It was as if I could literally feel the weight of the Inquisition on my shoulders.
I do not advocate a position on reincarnation, but I don’t dismiss it either, and the chill I experienced made me wonder if I at some point in a past life had been a victim of the Inquisition, and their hideous relentless persecution of truth and beauty? The Inquisition committed innumerable atrocities for the sake of upholding their version of intransigent dark religion — parading as light.
This Jesus whom I fondly call: “Jesus of the Fellowship” (because he reminds me of someone hanging around an AA meeting during a break) seems like the real deal to me. His gaze is not one of judgment and condemnation, nor is it a gaze eliciting pity. It is bold and robust, earthly and grounded. It is Jesus in full human form!
When you look over his left shoulder you see another face barely perceptible. That face with only one eye visible is staring into Eternity as if to remind us that even in earthly form, there is a Divine presence behind this carpenter turned Rabbi.
That Divine presence is within all of us. It is something we can reclaim and take back from those forces working within religion itself that have stolen it, twisted it, and hidden it from view. It is time to reclaim.
I remain a priest in the Church of God in part because I believe in the beauty of inclusive guilt free holiness as Jesus lived it. It is a tragic shame that this historical messianic figure has been twisted and misrepresented by organized religion so that he is barely recognizable any more.
So many have run for cover from the Church, seeking spirituality but not religion, missing an opportunity to discover who this Teacher truly was. I invite you to rediscover him without the baggage.
I encourage you to share a smoke with him, and enjoy a cigarette that miraculously contains none of the toxicity of organized religion.