I caught up to her at mid-town, on C Street.
I saw her bumper sticker first: “Jesus died for me.”
Common enough in red-state Alaska.
But then I saw her–white, middle-aged, soft around the edges. Something about her made the obscene absurdity of her bumper sticker come into sharper focus.
She thinks that almost 2000 years ago, on the other side of the world, someone died for her. And she thinks that’s a good thing. She thinks the unimaginable suffering of Jesus saved her comfortable soul from the wrath of God.
I used to think that, too, before I studied atonement theory in my final year at Princeton. There wasn’t much left of my Christian faith after that class.
What remains is a belief that Jesus died because he followed the path of love, not to satisfy an angry God. When he faced obstacles in the path of love, he didn’t step off the path. He stayed true, and faced the consequences.
Jesus wasn’t a scape-goat, carrying our sins into the wilderness. He was a seeker of truth who spoke the truth as he saw it. He welcomed sinners, and ate with them.
He was much more than a token, much more than a pawn, and certainly much more than a bumper sticker. He was a human being––charismatic, wise for his time, holy, and complicated.
This human Jesus is the one I still remember and honor–not the distorted image of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
I’m not all that different from the woman in the other car. I’m white, middle-aged, soft around the edges.
But for me the message of Jesus is very different. Not a debts-paid, no-worries message. A challenge to follow the path of love. A challenge to be less soft around the edges, to live each day to the fullest, to speak and live the truth as I see it, to get to the end of my life with no regrets, with nothing left in the tank.