Jesus, the Artist
Have you ever thought of Jesus as an artist? A poet? A screenplay writer? An actor? Jesus’ creativity is one of his most overlooked qualities that I described in Invitation to the Jesus Life. So much of what Jesus did could be classified as “street theater”-enacting truth in a dramatic way on the stage of everyday life. As any skillful dramatist, he plotted his movements carefully.
For example, his conversation with Mary Magdalene after his resurrection is full of non-stop drama (John 20:1-18). Consider it movement by movement. After John and Peter leave, Mary sees through her tears what two important men did not see: two angels in white in the spot where Jesus’ body disappeared from, one at the head and the other at the foot.
Clever characters themselves, the angels don’t act like angels by striking majestic towering poses. Instead they just sit there (in their lightning-white clothing). Nor do they offer explanations or theological insights. (A few informative words about the Trinity would have been appropriate.) The scene is filled with dramatic understatement, a technique that moves people so much more than overstated embellishment.
These seated angels ask Mary why she is crying (relational conversational drama). Something causes her to turn (did they angels look beyond her?) and see the gardener. The drama advances as Mary waylays this blue-collar worker to help her with her quest. Unbeknownst to her, this insignificant laborer is the missing star of the plot. Jesus has been waiting back stage, so to speak, to assume his role as Humble Gardener. This is so typical of Jesus—staying hidden enough to entice us to ponder what’s really going on in the unseen world. Jesus pulls back the curtain just enough to make us want to know more.
But Gardener-Jesus’ first line only repeats the angels’ question: Why are you weeping? As Mary’s passionate intensity increases to the maximum, she partly accuses, partly demands, and partly takes over: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” (Does she nearly grab him by the tunic?) She and the women had already been prevented from helping Nicodemus and Joseph prepare Jesus’ body for burial because it would have been improper to mix with them. She was thwarted then, but now it’s her turn to act!
This delay in finding Jesus’ body makes her speak more heatedly each time. Good drama draws out the moment so that each character expresses clearly what he or she wants. Such suspense makes us listeners and readers want to jump onto the stage (or into the page) and tell the characters what they are not telling each other. Have you ever thrust your novel down, run from the television set or hidden your eyes during a movie thinking, I can’t take it! because the suspense is too great?
Jesus, the master of understatement, reveals all with one word: Mary’s name spoken in his familiar Galilean accent. Imagine the look on Mary’s face as clarity descends-delight, rapture. She responds also with one word: “Teacher!” She then grasps this body she has been so determined to find. The drama ends with Jesus dispatching this purposeful, singlehearted woman on the first apostolic mission: “Go tell the guys what they missed by not waiting and seeking as you had the capacity to do.” As she leaves, is she even more overwhelmed than she was the day Jesus cast those seven demons out of her?
Why didn’t Jesus notify the disciples by simply holding a board meeting with them in the locked room? Why didn’t the angels just recite the order of events, newspaper-style, to Peter and John and Mary? Why did Jesus orchestrate all this drama–the longing, the discovery, the holding of one’s breath, the come-to-realize moments, the hidden intrigue, and the whack-on-the-head realization? Because that’s how interactive relationships work: drawing, wooing, temporary withdrawals, passionate gestures and concluding smiles of understanding. Dramatic back-and-forth movements of coming and going compel people to cry out hidden thoughts and feelings buried within themselves. This was Mary’s experience with Jesus, and it is to be ours even now today.
(Adapted from chapter 16 of Invitation to the Jesus Life.) ©Jan Johnson
Grace and peace,
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