I read today a quotation emphasizing that Jesus has taken up residence in the human heart. I get it and I don’t think it’s wrong. The language of abiding in the gospel of John would indicate that Jesus continues to be present to his followers through a mutual indwelling. The problem, though, with the “Jesus in my heart” language is that we can internalize the saving work of God in the world. This turns salvation into a “Jesus and me” thing, and misses the larger social and material significance of the kingdom of God.
So, Jesus goes from being the marginal peasant who walked the dusty of roads of first century Palestine, embodying the kingdom of God, proclaiming a way of non-violence, creating new social arrangements by welcoming the unclean and sinners and tax collectors, providing space for women and children in the welcome of God, to living in the hearts of individuals. Jesus in the heart, in an age of expressive individualism, becomes a therapeutic presence, inspiring peace and tranquility, and personal, moral improvement. These are hardly things to put anyone to death over.
I guess if I were to play the other side, defend the “Jesus in my heart” expression of much of contemporary Christianity, I would have so say that God’s plan is to make the world better one heart at a time. But then I would have to explain how this expression of Christianity carries little of the radical social and material nature of the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed. I think at many churches you’re more likely to hear a sermon extolling the virtues of personal responsibility than you are to hear one on sharing possessions or turning the other cheek.
While I think I have something of Jesus in my heart, I think it is more in keeping with the incarnation, with the life that Jesus actually lived in the world, to think of his continuing presence as being with the prisoner, the hungry, the naked, the abandoned, the overlooked, the refugee, the poor and marginal, all those excluded in other realms of significance and power.
I was asked by a student a few years ago why incarnation isn’t a bigger theological warrant in our program. That seemed to him to be a pretty big oversight for a program emphasizing God’s mission. But our program does emphasize incarnation plenty if what counts is the life Jesus actually lived and the kingdom he actually proclaimed.
I know this is a grumpy old man kind of post. I have mounted a blatantly obvious soapbox. I’m not asking anyone to ask Jesus to please vacate their heart. If he’s there, that’s great. What I’m trying to suggest is that Jesus’ actual, ongoing presence in the world is bigger than your heart. In fact, you might want to see if the Jesus in your heart looks like the one who continues to be present in the world.
Ok, next post will have less snark.