The hashtag, “HotJesus” went viral last week. It all had to do with the Son of God movie that was released to theaters and the physical appearance of actor Diogo Morgado who portrays Jesus. Apparently some people think Morgado is a good-looking guy and said so. That raised the issue of whether or not his physical good looks detracted from the message. On the other side people were saying as long as it gets people to the movie to hear the message, what does it matter. As you may have guessed I have some thoughts on the whole thing.
First this is not new that Jesus in movies is good-looking. In the early 60′s Jeffrey Hunter played Jesus in The King of Kings. He was a Hollywood Hunk at the time. In the 70′s it was Ted Neely in Jesus Christ SuperStar and more recently Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ. Neither of them are ugly men. So why would we be surprised that the latest portrayal by Diogo Morgado is any different. It’s Hollywood. Unless you are a character actor who needs a certain look, chances are you are going to be above average in the good looks department. At least you will be once they make up and airbrush you enough.
Is there a reason to be concerned about the physical portrayal of Jesus? Does it really matter as long as people see the movie and hear the message? Clearly it does. In our overly sexualized culture some folks become way too focused on “HotJesus” and missed the point of the message. Certainly there will be people who go to see the movie because they heard about “HotJesus” and in spite of that they will get the message. But even still there is a reason to be cautious, even concerned with how we portray Jesus. First and foremost is that we have absolutely no description of what Jesus looked like. So any attempt on our part will be pure speculation that is heavily influenced by our own biases. Such portrayals can unintentionally say more about us than they do about Jesus while at the same time telling some people Jesus is not for you. The recent statement by a politician that “Jesus was white” only serves to show the danger. For the record Jesus was a middle eastern Jewish guy. Not exactly a candidate for a Western European Caucasian.
The one statement in Scripture that gives any hint to the physical appearance of the Messiah comes in Isaiah 53:2 which says,
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him
In other words, Jesus was very average looking. You wouldn’t pick him out of a crowd because of his looks, good or bad. I am convinced that was by God’s design. Jesus came into the world to be our representative on the Cross. In literary terms he came as an everyman character. He was someone we all could relate to so it would make sense for him to be average looking.
Being average looking was important for another reason. It meant that people were drawn to Jesus not by his physical good looks but by three other more important traits, his unconditional love, his authoritative teaching and his miraculous power. In his love for people Jesus reached out to the sinner and the rejected as well as the religious and social insiders. In all cases they experienced love and personal acceptance while at the same time being told that they were sinners in need of repentance. Jesus showed how to love people welcome them while rejecting their lifestyles and calling them to do the same. That is a skill woefully lacking and needed in today’s world. His teaching was done with such confidence and a sense of authority that when he spoke people marveled and debated and chewed on what he said. The Word of God has the effect. And finally when he healed people, cast out demons, turned water into wine, walked on water and raised the dead, people noticed and they marveled. At no point did his appearance become the topic of discussion. It was all about his message, his love and his power.
Where the follower of Christ must be concerned with portrayals of Jesus is that, as Marshall McLuhan said , “the medium is the message”. Whatever vehicle one uses to transmit a message will in some way impact the message itself. Radio impacts the message differently from television which is different from a movie which is different from Broadway which is different from a tweet. An ugly Jesus impacts the message differently from “HotJesus” which is different from average looking Jesus. If he came originally as an average looking man then maybe we should be more diligent to see him as such.
Maybe more importantly there is a lesson here on God’s command to not make any images of him. As soon as we make an image of God we confine God to something that cannot contain him and we run the risk of focusing on or even worshipping the image more than God. There is a lesson to be learned from both Islam and Judaism with their connections to Moses. They each forbid any human depiction that may be worshipped or which of necessity would be woefully inadequate, not to mention inappropriate, in its portrayal of deity. We will never get to that point with Jesus. That ship has sailed. There are more physical depictions of Jesus in art than you could ever count. But that should not keep us from continually moving the conversation away from what Jesus looked like to who Jesus was and is, God come in the flesh, crucified, buried, risen, ascended to the right hand of the Father,the only way of salvation, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and the one who is coming again.