Jesus, a good-looker?
MORE GLEE, VICAR? My heart goes out to Rev Dr Matt Davis, the new vicar just over the moss at St Luke’s Formby.
Those of you who have already read this morning’s Sun will know what I am talking about. The sub-headline says everything you need to know: Church appoints handsome new vicar sparking delight among locals who compare him to hot priest in Fleabag. It seems that a photo of this prospective incumbent in a community Facebook group drew hundreds of compliments and memes — many referring to his looks. The writer of this eye-catching story has a limited grasp on the mechanics of church growth. She quotes two prospective church members. Alison Doran tweets “I have lots of syns (sic) that I suddenly need to confess.” While Kate Fielding adds: “I think the congregation is going to increase quite significantly.” However, the final line of her piece spoils the party. “However, admirers may be disappointed to know he is married with two sons.” All this is inspired by the character created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge in the second series of her award-winning comedy. And of course what gives this “hot priest” his particular dynamic is that fact that he is Roman Catholic and so celibate – and ‘out-of-bounds.’ An Anglican priest, however handsome, simply wouldn’t work. But it is a fact that we set a high premium on so-called good looks. “Being handsome wasn't much of a burden, reflected photographer David Bailey. “It worked for me.” A whole industry is based on our need to look good. The beauty industry in the UK contributed a total of £28.4 billion in 2018 to our nation's economy, for the most part money wistfully spent. However, if you are not up there in the beauty stakes, take heart. The apostle Paul had problems in that department too. A second century document may well be using first century sources when it reports that he was “bald headed, bowlegged, strongly built, a man small in size, with meeting eyebrows, with a rather large nose, full of grace, for at times he looked like a man and at times he had the face of an angel." Certainly the Christians at Corinth didn’t rate Paul’s looks very highly, that he lacked presence. As the apostle writes of their response to him “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” (2 Corinthians 10:10). It seems that Paul was in danger of being out-performed by so-called ‘super apostles’. “They’re a sorry bunch—pseudo-apostles, lying preachers, crooked workers—posing as Christ’s agents but sham to the core. And no wonder! Satan does it all the time, dressing up as a beautiful angel of light. So it shouldn’t surprise us when his servants masquerade as servants of God. But they’re not getting by with anything. They’ll pay for it in the end.” (2 Corinthians 10:13-15 The Message). In other words, don’t be taken in by good looks! Take the first King of Israel, Saul, for one, described as “handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.” (1 Samuel 9:10) He failed, not least because he let his looks and abilities go to his head. Of course, we do not know how Jesus looked – and if we did, I think we would be shocked. I despair when I google Jesus and go to images. Handsome, even beautiful north European with pale skin, clear blue eyes and long flowing locks with a carefully trimmed beard. Usually about 5’ 10”with a well-proportioned physique. I’m old enough to remember in 1967 the shock of Pasolini’s film, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, in which Jesus was played by Spaniard Enrique Irazoqui, described by one reviewer as “thin, stoop-shouldered, heavy-browed, anything but the muscular Christ of Michelangelo." Moreover, Irazoqui’s Jesus was unshaven with a stubble and short hair. Here he was probably right as later in the New Testament the apostle Paul attacks the practice of men having long hair. “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him.” (1 Corinthians 11:14). So what did Jesus look like? Our best guide comes from a prophecy five centuries earlier describing the suffering servant of the Lord: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2) Jesus did not pull in the crowds with his good looks, probably the very opposite. There would have been nothing in his appearance to attract us to him. For that is how God works, subverting our values and challenging our outlook. As baldy, bowlegged Paul urges us: “We don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!"