The Contagious Joy of Jesus

(Originally published over at Medium.)

I know we’re guessing with this stuff, but it’s interesting how often Jesus is portrayed as stoic, angry, sad, otherworldly wise, or strictly moralistic. (And then, of course, there’s the hippy dashboard Jesus… Which is fun.)

In this book that I’m reading, The Ragamuffin Gospel (my new favorite book ever — yes, this is saying a lot — which I’ll likely be talking about and stealing from for a long time), the author, Brenning Manning, takes a moment to portray Jesus as (wait for it)…

…joyful.

Hmmm…
A joyful Jesus.
Allow me to summarize…

Manning portrays a side of Jesus who was all about good wine and a warm meal, not at the swanky hipster boutique hotel with the VIP’s, but in a garage somewhere around a folding table with a motley crew of, well, ragamuffins.

As Manning writes, “The guest list would include a ragtag parade of donkey peddlers, prostitutes, herdsmen, slumlords, and gamblers. A social climber Jesus was not.”

He goes on to write, “The living presence of Jesus awakened joy and set people free. Joy was, in fact, the most characteristic result of all His ministry to ragamuffins.”

I absolutely love this concept of the joyful Jesus. No, not the whitewashed prosperity Jesus. The joyful Jesus. (There is a difference.)

This Jesus isn’t about sharing the roadmap to great wealth and possessions. He didn’t cling to the same material security blankets that we do. He wasn’t even about fasting or penitence. He was about sitting down with sinners and having a jolly good meal. And in that meal, they were liberated.

Account after account speaks of the sheer joy they experienced after eating with Jesus. He didn’t eat with them to teach them a lesson or call them out. He didn’t exhort them to be more moralistic or woke. And he didn’t tell them to keep going in their sinful ways. He freed them from self-hatred and divorced their identities from their small selves while reestablishing them as beloved children of God. In this new fellowship and with their renewed identity, they were free to live a new life. In Jesus’s eyes, they gained a trust bigger than their own that was unexplainable and irrational but absolutely solid and concrete.

This was (and is) the contagious joy of Jesus.

If Jesus invited himself over to your place for dinner tonight (as he so often did), you’d take one look at him and know…

Oh, damn… He knows everything about me. He knows everything that I pretend to be but am not. He’s totally seen every skeleton in my closet. He sees how pious I act while at the same time seeing the sketchy intentions that I proudly keep hidden so well.

And he fully accepts, approves, and forgives me as He holds up His glass of wine with a smile and blesses me. This Jesus isn’t enabling my sins. As real as He knows they are in the human realm, he also knows how unreal they are in the divine realm. In this loving acceptance, I feel them fall away. All that’s left in the wake of Christ’s joy is a love that comes from outside of myself that renews my soul and heals the way I see my neighbor.

In the joy of Christ, nothing is needed from me and everything is known about me.

“Salvation is joy in God which expresses itself in joy in and with one’s neighbor.”
- Walter Kasper

Here’s more from Brennan…

“Therefore, it is unimaginable to picture a wooden-faced, stoic, joyless, and judgmental Jesus as He reclined with ragamuffins. The human personality of Jesus is underrated when it is perceived as a passive mask for the dramatic speeches of divinity. Such timidity robs Jesus of His humanity, encases Him in plaster of paris, and concludes that He neither laughed, cried, smiled, nor got hurt, but simply passed through our world without emotional engagement.”

To bring home this concept of the joyful Jesus, Manning highlights Jesus’s magnetism with children. He was utterly drawn to and enamored by them (and vice-versa). Mark’s gospel tells the story about how a group of parents must have recognized God’s love in Jesus and went to have him bless their children. Jesus’s disciples were apparently bothered by this and tried to shield them from Jesus asking them to leave. Jesus saw this and motioned to his disciples to stand down.

Manning shares that Jesus picked each child up, one at a time, before cradling and blessing them. He didn’t round them up for a mass blessing because he was tired and had other things going on. He joyfully welcomed the parents before intimately blessing their kids with the full embrace of the merciful and all-loving God.

This is not a stoic, stand-offish, militant Jesus (not to say He couldn’t be that as well). It’s a side of Jesus that seems to have been wiped from many accounts of him, at least in my recollection. Perhaps the joyful Jesus doesn’t get people as fired up as the judgmental/prosperous Jesus does. The joyful Jesus likely doesn’t sell as many books and it’s probably hard to ‘organize’ people around that intention.

But for me, at this stage of my life, the joyful Jesus is who I need to know.