Five Ways Jesus Continues to Defy Categories.

Popular Mechanics "forensic anthropology" rendering of what Jesus might have looked like. (January, 2015)

Popular Mechanics "forensic anthropology" rendering of what Jesus might have looked like. (January, 2015)

Jesus was single.  In a Church and a society that glorifies marriage, in a country filled with Christian colleges and universities and churches that pressure young men and women to 'hurry up and matter' by getting married, where if you're a Christian and you reach a certain point-of-no-return age of 27 and you're still single, something must be wrong with you, where 100 sermons on marriage are preached for every 1 on singleness, Jesus sets singleness as the primary paradigm for Christian family.  His best friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were all single.  Most of his disciples, besides Peter, were single adults.  Out of their singleness, they created a new family that for all time would transcend biology.

Jesus was tender towards outliers, and sharp towards religious people.  Warning sirens should abound amongst the ranks of American Christianity.  Were Jesus here today, would his sharpest words be directed at homosexuals, women who had got an abortion, men who had surgically become women, or drug addicts?  Not a chance.  His harshest words would probably be towards Senior Pastors, missionaries, preachers, and institutional Christian leaders.  Always for those on the margins, Jesus would be with the 'least,' the 'last,' and the 'lost,' those chewed up by life, people who had already had "major moral failures," gay people unable to find welcoming in a community, refugees and immigrants with no place in white suburban megachurches.  After all, doctors don't make a living by taking care of healthy people, according to something he used to say.

Jesus was "well-acquainted" with depression and sorrow.  Jesus knew heart-crushing loneliness, the grief of losing loved ones, the pressure of wanting more for people than they want for themselves, the despair and darkness of spiritual struggle.  He knew what abandonment by closest friends feels like.  He know the horrifying shriek of forsakenness as he cried out from the cross only to be met by the silence of the Father he thought would be there for him.  Against such conceptions of the spiritual life as happy, joyful, full of hashtags and bibles and "much-needed time in the word" and new boyfriends/girlfriends, engagement photos, new houses, athletic pastors that are always "really excited to be here this morning," and their hot wives that are really into calligraphy or photography, Jesus knew what it was like to look to the horizon for help and see only darkness, to look for his friends between exasperated breaths as he hung on the cross but see only thieves and Roman soldiers.

Jesus defies categories of "liberal" and "conservative."  The moment you think Jesus is more concerned with social justice than morality, he maximizes the Pharisees' moral interpretations of the Torah and denies a Canaanite woman any part in his ministry, and the moment you think Jesus is conservative he reinterprets and redefines age-old central traditions of Judaism, redefining the Temple as his own body and claiming to have the power of God to forgive sins.

Jesus was probably ugly.  If we take the Isaianic oracles seriously as the Church has done traditionally, there was nothing particularly attractive about Jesus.  They say the Suffering Servant had nothing about him that we would find desirable. Was he overweight?  A dad bod?  Did he have a big nose?  Unibrow?  Who knows.  What we could probably infer at least is that Jesus had no distinguishing features that set him apart from anyone else.  Judas had to point him out ("the one that I kiss") to the soldiers who arrested him.  Mary mistook him for "the gardener" after the resurrection.  Most women probably would have "swiped left" on Jesus' photo if he had a Tinder.  Over and against a society hyper-obsessed with image, constantly curating online personas, filled with men whose sexual imaginations has been forever warped by pornography and women who feel constantly overlooked because of their body shape and type, the God who walked the world with sandals on was not good looking or handsome. In a society that objectifies women and obsesses over beauty, the dignity and power Jesus gave to women was unparalleled in the history of the world.  He loved the unlovely.  He touched the untouchables.  He demonstrated primary attention to people's hearts, once referring to a bunch of religious leaders as "whitewashed tombs," with outward appearances that were deceptive.

Jesus continues to defy the categories American Christianity tries to place upon him.  He continues to confront what we consider normal and good with the alternative world he's trying to pull us into—one not characterized by anxiety, scarcity, and consumption, but one filled with the abundance and wholeness of God. That's why I still find him, after all these years, compelling.