During Holy Week, I can’t tell you how many photos, portraits, paintings, digital graphics I saw of Jesus with a 6-pack. Not a 6-pack of beer. Not a 6-pack of Coke. BUT BULGING ABS along with rippling muscles, flowing conditioned hair, and amazing quads. There on a cross is a Jesus that looks as though he has stepped out of an exercise video or a CrossFit. With every image and with every ab, I grew uncomfortable with such a heteronormative, socially constructed, and, probably, inaccurate portrayal of Christ, killed and humiliated by the state because of his message of radical love.
There on a cross is a Jesus that looks as though he has stepped out of an exercise video or a CrossFit.
Now, I would never pretend to know or argue the exact appearance of Christ…that’s not the point. What I would like to explore is the way we portray Jesus.
White Jesus. Body Builder Jesus. Body Hair-less Jesus. Straight Hair Jesus. Blue Eyed Jesus.
The images etched in our minds of Christ influences our theological understandings of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Because Holy Week has just passed, we will focus on the death and resurrection of Christ.
The images etched in our minds of Christ influences our theological understandings of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
One of the most vivid images that comes out of Holy Week is Jesus on the cross. Bloody and beaten, and yet, Jesus is shown with the “perfect” body. This perfectionism, seeping into theological ideas of Christ’s own perfectionism, is intertwined with social ideals of beauty and attractiveness. Christ, seen as perfect, also has the most perfect body. But that body is constructed out of the contexts in which it is created. Systems of oppression have constructed images of what the body should look like and as a result, these hyper-muscular bodies are shown as the epitome of being, of strength, of overcoming and of attractiveness. Basically, you must be hot to get by in the world and, in Jesus’ case, you must exude the hyper-masculine to overcome death…and possibly be attractive to get your point across.
Systems of oppression have constructed images of what the body should look like and as a result, these hyper-muscular bodies are shown as the epitome of being, of strength, of overcoming and of attractiveness.
So, when Jesus is portrayed as an Instagram model. What does this say about our theology? What does it say about our ideas of salvation? What does it say about our ideas of incarnation? It says that we follow a God with a limited idea of embodiment. It reflects what society permits as acceptable appearance and ways of being. It perpetuates systems that tell us we should look a certain way so that we may overcome. It tells us that our bodies are limited, and that limitation creates attractiveness so that we may assume positions of power. It also may tell us that in order to be fully loved, we must look a certain way. Christ on display, hanging on the cross, depicted as a gym rat would then show to us that the suffering, the agony, the death of Jesus was only but a showy act to depict what God can do…not what truly happened.
And isn’t that what we see during Holy Week? Isn’t that what we hear in pulpits and on TV when people simply want to be consumed with the image of the death, the gore of the death, the blood flowing over the body, the weird and obsessive hold on the glorification of a crucifixion. And, just so we are clear, it doesn’t just happen in conservative, evangelical spaces…
Christ died on the cross, probably way more maimed and beaten than ever depicted, because the State executed him. The State executed him because of his Word, his Action, and his Ideologies that went against the status quo. That is what happened. Our obsession with appearance, the death and what that implies misses the important part of the Passion story – Christ was a social revolutionary that died because of it.
Christ died on the cross, probably way more maimed and beaten than ever depicted, because the State executed him.
But because we don’t want to know the theological reality of the death of Jesus, we create a new reality, make it attractive, make it pretty, make it hot. We create a new theological reality that simply says, “Jesus died for our sins.” And then we make that simple message look good so we can sell it.
Nothing about the death of Jesus was good and I’m not convinced that Jesus adhered to our societal norms of appearance. And that is where resurrection comes in. When the disciples found the tomb empty, and a resurrected Jesus was walking around and eating and doing everything a body would do, death was overcome. Death in all its manifestations of systems of oppression and the status quo that ultimately killed Jesus. That death was overcome. And a Jesus who adhered to those systems would not have overcome that death. That Jesus would have stayed in the tomb, and I think that Jesus should stay in the tomb.
And a Jesus who adhered to those systems would not have overcome that death. That Jesus would have stayed in the tomb, and I think that Jesus should stay in the tomb.
The Christ on the cross and the Christ of the resurrection is a culmination of the totality of our embodiment that breaks systems of conforming and oppression. That breaks systems of perfectionism and hotness. That breaks systems of white supremacy and racism. That breaks systems of heteronormativity and gender suppression. This Christ is the Christ that shows our curves, our uniqueness, our curly hair, our bodies. This Christ rose from a death that the systems thought was permanent because this Christ cracked those systems through who Christ was.
So, did Jesus have a 6-pack? Maybe. The better question is, why do we care? The better question is why a 6-pack?
The Christ on the cross and the Christ of the resurrection is a culmination of the totality of our embodiment that breaks systems of conforming and oppression.
The question of “WHY?” moves the death and resurrection of Christ into today. We are consumed with the images of perfection so much so that we starve ourselves, we overwork our bodies, we degrade ourselves. We compare ourselves to others. Systems of oppression hurl us into a windstorm that orients us to aim for false and material perfections.
But when we live into the resurrection of the fully embodied Christ, the winds calm, and we reorient ourselves to see who God created us to be within the images of Christ. We experience the uniqueness and the creative imagination of creation that we all journey. And that experience, leaves the 6-pack Jesus in the tomb and allows us to walk the path of the Christ who liberates, who loves, and who could care less about perfection.
Rev. Lee Catoe is the Editor of Unbound and the writer for the Unbound Column, “Out of the Tombs”.