Was listening to Ed Byrne and Lucy Porter on Steve Wright’s radio 2 programme yesterday and Ed’s factoid was all about factoids. Did you know that the word factoid has actually become a factoid? Factoid originally means something that sounds like a fact but isn’t. Something that is repeated and passed on so much that it sounds true, but in reality is just hearsay. Literally ‘fact-shaped’. e.g. Bob Holness played saxophone on Jerry Rafferty’s Baker Street. Often told, but not true. Well, since Steve Wright’s use of the word factoids on his show people have started to call interesting facts factoids. Which of course makes that a factoid, because factoids aren’t interesting facts at all. They are things that just sound interesting but aren’t facts. If you can follow that logic…
Anyway, that made me think about Christianity, and how many factoids are told about Jesus. e.g. He was good looking. He was tall with blue eyes. He wants you for a sunbeam. He looked serious all the time and walked around with his arms in a fixed open position. He wants people to be nice. He lives in churches. He goes around pointing out people’s sins all day. Here’s a kind of factoid – Action Jesus – available in all good toy and factoid stores. Fun – but hey! – we really need more than a plastic Jesus with moveable arms, don’t we?
All of this is contrary to the stories told about Jesus in the Bible. He certainly wasn’t tall because the average guy in his day was about five foot three (it’s all to do with diet) if you want a taller man you have to look to the Romans – who ate better – they might be five foot seven or eight. Which does make you wonder just how short little man Zacchaeus was? Four foot seven? Jesus didn’t stand out in a crowd, he was an ordinary-looking, yokel kind of guy. And didn’t have blue eyes because – unlike the movie portrayals – he was Jewish. There’s a story told about Charlie Chaplain – he entered a Charlie Chaplain lookalike competition… and came third! Well, if Jesus entered a Jesus lookalike competition and I was judging it I reckon he’d be lucky to come in the top ten! Again and again I have believed the factoids about him rather than the reality.
For me the story that most defines our misunderstanding of Jesus is this. One day Jesus tells his friends – ‘If your eye is evil your whole body will be bad.’ Now for years I thought that meant – be careful what you look at, it will corrupt you. And while there is truth in that, it’s not the original meaning of what Jesus is communicating. There was a saying in his day – if you were generous you had a ‘good eye’, if you were mean you had the ‘evil eye’. So Jesus is stretching this saying – he says if you are generous it benefits your whole being. Likewise if you are mean it affects all that you are.
To be generous is to be healthy. It feeds your soul, mind and will. It’s good for you. So this is not a Jesus walking around wagging his finger telling people what they should or shouldn’t look at, the Pharisees were more likely to do that. This is a Jesus encouraging people to share what they have, their humour, their gifts and talents, their way of life. God is a generous father, Jesus says in the story we now know as the prodigal son, be like him, like a chip off the divine block.