One of the characteristics the non-religious find least appealing about Christians is the tendency to be goody-goodies. You see it all the time in their portrayal of priests in films and on TV. The popular image of the Anglican priest is as a quiet man (and it’s always a man) out of touch with the real world. He doesn’t drink, smoke or swear and he doesn’t like it when other people do.
Catholic priests, on the other hand, are commonly thought of as boozy men, and in recent years the slur of child abuse has crept into the description.
I remember my father, a basically clean-living Christian with more than his fair share of demons, discussing a local sex scandal. The man in question was a Methodist. “See,” my father glibly told my mother. “With Methodists it’s sex and with Catholics it’s drink.” As a bit of a boozer himself, he didn’t really have a leg to stand on, but most of us don’t let that get in the way, and he certainly didn’t.
We’re all fallible and we all have weaknesses. That doesn’t mean we’re not Christians or not worthy of being Christians.
The only person in history regarded as having never sinned is Jesus Christ. But was he a goody-goody?
I would say not. All we have to go on is what is in the Bible, and there is hardly a torrent of complaints about his behaviour in there.
However, he was known to get angry from time to time. When he kicked the money-changers out of the temple he threw their tables over. He didn’t say, “Listen, guys, this isn’t very nice. Please go and do it somewhere else.”
Jesus could also get fed up with people who didn’t understand or acknowledge what he was telling them.
When he was asleep in a bpat with some of the disciples and a storm blew up, they were naturally scared. He wasn’t, and he was disappointed that they should be.
After a while in the New Testament, he speaks mainly in parables, some of which even his closest followers had trouble understanding. But when challenged about it, he confided that some people were never going to get it anyway, so he had given up trying to talk to them in a straightforward way.
In Matthew 13, verse 11, we read:
He replied, “The knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.
I don’t know about you, but if he had given me that answer, I wouldn’t have been happy with it, because it’s about as clear as the parables themselves. It is open to interpretation. It is not a careful explanation designed to make sure his disciples understood and could share their knowledge.
Why did Jesus act this way? We don’t know. And most Christians gloss over it, because they don’t really have the answer but they don’t want to spoil the image of the perfect man.
Jesus was a complex character. He was capable of great kindness. He advocated forgiveness of sins and the writing off of debts which could simply not be paid.
But if he was there with you now, you wouldn’t want to ask him a stupid question, just in case you got one of his withering responses.
It is something that should provide comfort for us all. We sin; we make the same bad choices over and over again; we seem to have no power over our weaknesses, so we keep giving in to them without really trying.
If Jesus had been a wishy washy character, he wouldn’t have been able to relate to us. But he battled his way through life, making enemies as well as friends.
We are warned not to keep bad company, but Jesus took Matthew as a disciple, and Matthew was a tax collector, a member of a rather dodgy group of people who made a living not just through their wages but by taking more than people really needed to pay.
Even if Mary Magdalene really was a prostitute – and there is a school of thought that she wasn’t – it didn’t stop Jesus from welcoming her into his fold. And if she was labeled a prostitute by people who resented her being a strong, outspoken character, that was still a bold move by Jesus, because in those days women we meant to be hardly seen and certainly not heard.
He saw something in Matthew and Mary Magdalene, and we just have to do our best and hope he sees something in us too.