We have sheep, two ewes and two lambs. I confess once held romantic notions of lying in green pastures, sheep beside me, lambs sharing my lap, celebrating their gentle grace and beauty. Spiritual connotations abounded, my heart filled to brimming with the fantasy of their nuzzling noses, goodness rubbing off in some cosmic exchange of pastoral wonder.
My daughter, Claire, is our resident shepherd. She, her brothers and my husband have been rafting the Grand Canyon for two weeks, leaving me with the animal duties. Our Colorado spring weather has been unpredictable and uncooperative for those of us longing for blue skies and sunny days. Sloppy and slushy, the backyard is a muddy poop puddle.
Five minutes in the barn to feed and water animals, my clothes and hair reek, damp straw owning the stench. My Psalm 23 fantasy has bit by bit eroded into a nose-pinching, eye-watering affair. After accomplishing the necessary deeds to keep the creatures alive, clothes are deposited on the mudroom floor, alongside muck boots.
Two years ago, Claire’s first lamb, Rosie, had a medical condition that did not bode well for her long-term health. Well bred and fed, she was a formidable creature, topping the scales at 140 pounds. We knew she needed to be put down and the butcher had a brief opening one day in summer, during county fair season. It was up to Eric and I, being the good parents that we are, to salvage what we could of Rosie. The trip was long and arduous. Eric drove while I occupied the middle seat of the SUV, anchoring the lamb with a single tether. Baa-ing for her life, pooping profuse in the cupholders (to be discovered later by an unsuspecting child), her fearful eruptive bleats contributed to the erosion of my aging eardrums.
Upon arrival we led Jesus…er, I mean…Rosie to slaughter, bearing the burden of our daughter’s grief, into the rear door of the nondescript cinderblock building. Her unwitting offering as seventy pounds of white paper-wrapped blocks of frozen, grass-fed, Rosie.
Regardless of whether Jesus was the sheep or the shepherd, he must have smelled something awful. That barn, the scene of his birth was no doubt downright raunchy. The stink of the animals, the soggy straw, the shepherds. Yuck.
I doubt this image of Jesus is misguided. It is not possible he escaped his own birth, life and death without repelling people. In fact, we know he repelled people – the righteous people, the Law-abiding people, the educated and careful people. Jesus did not linger long with the perfect or presentable. He was one with the poor, the sinner, the outcast, the average. In other words, our homeless, our diseased, our oppressed and marginalized.
This Jesus is with me at my worst, when my actions, judgments and beliefs, my jealousy and self-righteousness have spoiled me to the point of stink, ruin, ridicule and foul. This Jesus, born with sheep and other barnyard creature, did not hesitate to enter the pain and suffering of the world. He dwelled among the offensive outcasts of society. He brushed against the bleeding women, the demon possessed men, the three-days-dead. He lived among and healed, offering mercy to our fetid shame, greed, lust and pride, our humanity.
He chose us, to dwell with us, to understand us, while we we are still in our mess, while we still choose our mess.
And He loves us.
I’m not interested in a sanitized Jesus.
I’m not interested in a Jesus that doesn’t know what it means to bleed or be hungry.
I’m not interested in a Jesus that doesn’t know racial prejudice and exclusion.
I’m not interested in a Jesus who doesn’t understand and love women in our reflection of the Imago Dei (Image of God).
I’m not interested in a Jesus that does not mourn and weep with us.
This Jesus is mine. This Jesus brings hope and offers us good reason to follow, not only because he identifies with our suffering, but because he dwells with us. Our pain will not be erased or wasted. The plight of refugee, abused, gay, transgender, black, Native American is seen and known – all are redeemed, all are rejoiced over and honored and loved.
This stinky Jesus, is the one I worship. Not the white-washed, blue-eyed model Jesus with the hipster beard and rock-star hair.
My Jesus carried all of this with a cross draped across his broken body.
My Jesus bears the pain, the stench and the redemption of my neighbor, and of me.