Beatrix Potter stories were probably the first books I learnt to read; the antics of Peter Rabbit and Squirrel Nutkin introduced me to the joys of the English language and began my love affair with books.
However, being raised in the countryside I never really bought in to the anthropomorphic characters. Rabbits appeared too often on the dinner table for there to be any sentimentality about them and squirrels were vermin; rats with bushy tales.
Not so for my friend John; brought up in a city his knowledge of the natural world came from an unfortunate combination of the Potter stories and Walt Disney! Nature made cute. John carried this bowdlerised view of the animal kingdom into his mature years and would probably carry it still if he had not met a real Squirrel Nutkin, “red in tooth and claw”, on a day trip to the country.
It was a bank holiday a few summers back when John decided to take his family for a picnic in a country park. Unusually for a bank holiday the weather was fantastic; a bright yellow sun and an azure blue sky. No doubt because the weather was so good, every car in the home counties seemed to be on the road.
Sitting in a slow moving line of traffic approaching the picnic site there seemed to be almost as many cars heading in the opposite direction but they were moving slightly quicker. It’s then that John sees the grey cousin of squirrel Nutkin; caught between the two lines of moving cars, running hither and thither, obviously panicking and unable to find a gap that will allow him to reach safety. John, moved by compassion for a fellow being, stopped his car and went to help the little fella. To pick him up and carry him to safety was the plan.
Alas for John, animals in the wild do not behave as though they were in Snow White! As he bent down to pick it up and take it to safety the squirrel sank its teeth into his hand. Blood flowed, pain surged and John’s vocabulary became very Anglo Saxon! He tried to pull the animal off with his free hand but its jaw refused to open. In desperation he picked up a stick from the roadside, held the squirrel away from his body and aimed a blow at it. At this point the squirrel released its grip, fell to the ground and headed for the safety of the woods.
John didn’t get to the picnic site; he had to head for the nearest A&E. While he was injected with antibiotics, a tetanus booster and a Rabies jab, his family ate their picnic in the car park.
It was later that evening that he arrived home; sore frustrated and angry. He was settling down to a G&T when the police arrived. They had been given photos of John holding a helpless animal by the throat while beating it with a stick and then launching it into the woods. They also had his car registration. Fortunately common sense prevailed and John was not charged or cautioned.
So why am I sharing these memories. First because I met up with John recently and we had a laugh about it. Secondly because I think we all suffer from image management. Every day we meet, in the media, politicians and entertainers and we have views about them; but what do we really know? Is Nick Clegg a cuddly toy or a nasty vermin that will sink his teeth into you in order to survive? I’ll leave that one to you. What I want to discuss is how we perceive Jesus Christ?
Just close your eyes for a second and create an image of our Lord. What did you see?
- A hippy in a robe?
- A child in a manger?
- A man dressed only in a loin cloth hanging on a cross?
What emotions were invoked?
- Love for the man who was love?
- Tenderness for the meek and mild baby?
- Sympathy for the dying hero?
It seems to me that much of society, including parts of the church, has taken Jesus and turned him into a Disney character; a theological squirrel Nutkin! We have emasculated Him.
I want to talk about the Jesus that was an action man.
The Jesus that drove sinners from the temple.
The Jesus that, again and again, faced down the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The Jesus that stood face to face with Pilate and stood firm.
The Jesus that endured physical and mental abuse from His tormentors and lost neither His dignity nor His temper.
The Jesus that was nailed, naked, to a cross and died the agonising death of a criminal.
The Jesus that did all of this for you and me.
This is the Jesus I love, the Jesus I follow. That’s why a bunch of men are meeting once a month, in Christchurch Warminster, to learn about Jesus through the Gospel of Mark. Learning about the real Jesus not a sentimental caricature. Please come and join us, details of when we meet will appear on the Home page..
Of course there are other aspects to Him: the compassion of the healer, the patience of the friend, the wisdom of the teacher. He was, and is, everything that is good, and as everything He speaks to everyone. Man or woman. I would just like to reunite us with the fully human man who was God incarnate!