Sanitizing Jesus

| Father Nathaniel Meyers | August 13, 2020 | 0 Comments

“The Cathedral of Cefalu (Duomo di Cefalu), is located in Cefalu, in Sicily, Italy.” iStock/stanisam

When I was in high school, the movie “Dogma” was released in theaters to great controversy for its subversive and sacrilegious portrayal of the Catholic Church. I do not remember the movie in any great detail anymore (it was a poorly made and unfunny provocation), except for one image in it: Buddy Christ.

Screenshot image of “Buddy Christ” from the movie Dogma (Lions Gate Films) via Wikipedia

In the movie, the cardinal archbishop decides the Catholic Church needs a new image in the modern world, so he launches a PR campaign to make the Church seem hip, cool and interesting. The Buddy Christ is a statue of the Lord winking and giving a thumbs up, specifically designed in the movie to look ridiculous and be understood as a failed attempt to replace the iconography of Christ of the last two millennia.

However, while we can look at that image in the film “Dogma” and immediately see the preposterous nature of such an idea, our preaching and catechesis regularly look to do precisely the same thing. We sanitize the person of Jesus Christ and make the Lord more palatable to our modern sensibilities. We often speak of Jesus as our savior and even as a friend, but rarely do we consider him as our judge and our ruler. This coming Sunday’s Gospel from Matthew presents a curious passage that likely disturbs our modern conceptions of Christ. The Evangelist relays the story of a Canaanite woman approaching the Lord and paying him homage as she pleas for Jesus’ intervention for her possessed daughter, only to be greeted with the challenging reply: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” The idea of Jesus — Friend of Sinners and the Good Shepherd — saying something so demeaning and harsh to our ears probably comes across as an anomaly and perhaps even some homilies this weekend will try to lessen the impact for us to make each of us (priests included) feel a little more comfortable.

Yet, the Son of God did not come to offer us a life of comfort. On the contrary, Jesus Christ promises us a life of persecution, suffering and degradation. The Canaanite woman does not shy away from the teachings of Jesus that no doubt are what drew her to him in the first place. We would likely refuse the categorization of a dog, but the woman does not deny her undeserving status before God Incarnate. With great humility, the woman accepts Jesus’ authority and sovereignty and appeals only to his mercy. As the woman argues that “even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters,” Jesus answers that her faith is great and then grants the initial request.

In our relationship with Christ, we must become like the Canaanite woman and recognize the Lord is not to be considered on our terms and does not need to conform to our ideas, preferences or concepts. The disciple does not have the right to impose his or her image on the Lord, but rather must let the Lord impress his image on himself or herself. Jesus Christ most assuredly is our savior and we can even think of him as a friend, but the Lord still gets to define what it means to be the savior and our friend, as well as what that entails for us. In coming to know Jesus, we must let go of our own ideas and notions in order to arrive at the truth he reveals to us.

Father Meyers is the pastor of St. Francis Xavier in Buffalo. He can be reached at

Sunday, Aug. 16
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Category: Sunday Scriptures