What picture do we paint of Christ?

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

It was the crusty old agnostic philosopher Friedrich (“God is dead”) Nietzsche who said: ‘If Christians wish us to believe in their Redeemer, why don’t they look a little more redeemed?’

Similar sentiments were voiced by none other than Mahatma Ghandi : ‘I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.’

It was with these thoughts in my head that a story I might have told you before came to mind; if so, please forgive me but I think you’ll agree that it bears retelling. The story was about a little American Jewish boy named Itzok Isaac Granich who was born and lived in New York at the tail-end of the nineteenth century.

In his book, ‘A Jew Without Knowing It’, written under the pseudonym Mike Gold, he tells of his mother’s instructions never to venture beyond four certain streets. She couldn’t tell him he lived in a Jewish ghetto, or that he had what some called the ‘wrong blood’. He would not have understood. In later life, he reflected: ‘Children do not understand prejudice. Prejudice is a poison that must gradually seep into a person’s bloodstream’.’ Sound familiar?

He tells of the day that curiosity lured him beyond those four certain streets outside his ghetto, and how he was accosted by a group of older boys who asked him: ‘Hey kid, are you a kike?’

Little Itzok had never heard the word before and so he answered ‘No’. But the older boys were persistent: ‘Are you a Christ-killer?’

Again, the child didn’t understand the question. He had never heard that expression either and so he answered ‘No’. But the older lads continued: ‘Where do you live?’ And his answer gave the game away.

‘So you are a kike, you are a Christ-killer! Well, you’re in Christian territory now and we are Christians. We’re going to teach you to stay where you belong!’ and they beat him, bloodied his face, tore his clothes and sent him home crying, with their jeers ringing in his ears: ‘We are Christians! You killed Christ! Stay where you belong!’

When he arrived home, his frightened mother asked him what had happened, but the child could only say that he didn’t know. ‘Who did this to you?’ But he didn’t know and so his mother gently washed the blood away from his face and changed his torn and bloodied clothes, and as she soothed him in her lap as she sat in her rocking chair, Mike Gold recalled how he had raised his battered lips to her ear and asked: ‘Mama, who is Christ?’

Mike Gold, a Communist poet, author and philosopher, died in 1967 at the age of 73.

His last meals were taken at a Catholic Charity House in New York City run by Dorothy Day, the social activist, who once said of him: ‘Mike Gold eats at the table of Christ every day, but he will probably never accept him because of that awful day when he first heard his name.’

For better or for worse, Jesus has taken Christians, the likes of you and me, to be his eyes and ears, his hands and his feet in this world, and bearing in mind the words of Francis of Assisi : ‘Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words’: What sort of a picture do we paint of the Master?