Why isn't our Jesus happy?

I showed my students "Super Size Me" (the McDonald's documentary) Thursday to spark a discussion about, among other things, advertising to children. In one scene, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock shows a series of pictures to five children and asks them to identify them. The only image they consistently recognized was that of Ronald McDonald. The one image none of the kids recogized was Jesus Christ.

This Jesus had light hair and eyes--he looked sort of Danish--and had obviously just had his hair and beard trimmed. He was wearing clean white clothes and was smiling slightly, in a sympathetic way.

One of my Catholic students observed humorously, "That's not our Jesus. Our Jesus isn't that happy."

It was just a side comment, but I started thinking of the images of Christ in my son's Catholic school. Each room had a crucifix. There was a bust of Jesus pointing to his sacred heart with the crown of thorns. There are the stations of the cross in the church. In our church, the Holy Family is depicted, eyes lowered, looking somberly at the boy Jesus holding a little lamb. It is as if they are already contemplating Christ's death. They are not an especially happy looking bunch.

My son used to like the boy Jesus with his "pet lamb." It gave him a point of connection. Jesus loved his pet lamb, he loved his cat Geoffrey.

I let this fiction go on for awhile before I explained that the lamb was a symbol of Jesus human "flock," and also his sacrifice because lambs were sacrificed at the Temple. Kids are pretty literal thinkers, and the boy Jesus having his pet lamb ripped away and slaughtered in a church was probably more horrifying to my son than the crucifixion. One of my many stupid parent moments.

However, one of the things I personally have to thank Pope John Paul II for was the establishment of the Luminous Mysteries. I grabbed a couple of the booklets illustrating the mysteries when they were introduced. The pictures show Jesus interacting with people--something much of our Catholic iconography does not do, much as I love it and find beauty in it. Jesus is so often depicted alone, or conferring only with his mother, disciples and sometimes St. John the Baptist. Through the Luminous Mysteries and the pictures, my son could see a different Jesus.

During Lent, when we focus so much on Christ's suffering, his brutal treatment, the suffering of the world and the suffering our own sins cause, we might want to remember that Lent also invites us to think about how it could all be different if there were no sin. There would be no brutal treatment of prisoners, no executions, no hearts with thorns, no suffering because of sins.

A place, in short, where Jesus would smile a lot and a little boy could keep his pet lamb safe. And his pet cat, too.

P.S. Apologies to Fr. Imbelli, to whom my low-browand homely observations may seem something like an insult following his fine discussion on the Transfiguration and Rowan Williams' meditation on associated iconography. I didn't plan it that way.

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