It’s the woven ivory cardigan in my closet. The one with loose threads and pockets that I’ve worn to work and weddings, alike. It’s the Mrs. T’s frozen pierogies in my freezer that I can pull out in a pinch, sear in butter, and eat with shredded cheese. It’s the stack of hand-written letters from friends that I keep on my nightstand. And it’s the hand-carved clay charm that lays flat against my collar bone, strung on a delicate gold chain (I never take it off). They are things of comfort. Yours might be different, but there are certain routines we all keep and coping mechanisms we all turn to. Those are some of mine.
With increasing frequency, I also find myself turning to the gospels. Those four books of the Bible – nestled neatly at the beginning of the New Testament – have become like a lifeline. The way I turn to them has become a conscious need, one that bypasses all manner of poise or self-composure. It’s an ache, a yearning, a plea for truth. In a world that’s undone by injustice, and with trust that’s been eroded by hypocrisy, I flip to the words penned by Matthew, John Mark, Luke, and John with unfiltered desperation: Show me what you saw. Let me read the words you heard. Tell me who he is.
And there, in the red ink and perspectives of four average men, I find him. Jesus. Again and again and again and again.
I let my eyes linger, slowly, over words and stories that have been faithfully carried throughout many generations. Jesus comes alive, again, in my imagination. He’s there, performing countless miracles – turning water to wine, raising friends from the dead, and enacting numerous healings. But even more, he is there in the everyday mundane – radiating love, joy, and peace; patience, kindness, and goodness; faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I am drawn to him by the way he moves through life, by the grace he carries and the wisdom he gives. I am drawn to him by the way he loves, by his compassion, and by his tender care and sincerity. I am, like his first century followers, simply in awe of him.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: The do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn, yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? […] Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”
Luke 12:22-26, 32
“‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.'”
“‘Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!'”
“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'”
As I read, I see even more accounts of Jesus tenderly loving women – without shame, fear, or domineering intent. I see his heart for justice and his disdain for hypocrisy. I see his gentleness towards children and his patience in interruption.
In an astonishing revelation, I’ve realized: Jesus is my greatest comfort, everything I want, and everything I hope to emulate.
The book of Galatians calls these wholly attractive and pleasing qualities Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Rather than his outward appearance, humor, or charm, it is Jesus’ character that makes him truly and timelessly attractive. It’s his quiet inner confidence, and it’s kindness, gentleness, and patience that draw people in. That draw me in. Things that are easy to fake, but hard to learn. Things that are so rare and lacking in most relationships. Things that are often so rare and lacking in myself.
Yet, as we follow Jesus and abide in him, we, too, will graciously and gradually become like him. It’s a process that’s often slow, yet inevitable; much less doing or striving, and more being and beholding. The oft-quoted phrase, ‘we become what we behold,’ therefore, can be such a powerful sentiment. And it reminds me of the choice I have, even and especially in the midst of fear and distrust, to remember Jesus. To stop the anxious thoughts. To pause my running mind. To take a deep breath. And to remember the unchanging character of my Jesus – my savior and king who, because of the cross, I can also blissfully and unimaginably relate to as friend.
I read the gospels and remember who Jesus is, and observe how different his love is from that of the world. He is somehow God and somehow man, all at the same time. But he is the best we could hope for, in both.
‘Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.‘ (Psalm 139:6)
And it is astonishingly beautiful.