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Jesus Didn’t Dance, Did He?

Last weekend, our family headed up to Drumheller, AB to attend The Canadian Badlands Passion Play, a dramatic portrayal of the story of Jesus in a natural amphitheatre in the central Alberta Badlands. I wasn’t really sure what to expect—I had heard good things about the production, but to be honest the main reason I went was because I received a “pastor’s discount” in the mail. And I’m very glad that I did, because the play did a magnificent job of humanizing Jesus and capturing what it might have been like to experience the events of his life narrated by the gospels.  

This year’s production was based specifically on the gospel of John. On one level, this is not the most obvious of choices. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are much more action-packed narratives than John’s, which is characterized by lengthy portions of dialogue and teaching. But the writers and directors did a great job of mixing lengthy sections of discourse with the central events of Jesus’ story.

One of the earlier scenes in the play was the wedding feast at Cana where Jesus performed his first miracle—the turning of water into wine (John 2:1-12). The scene looked more or less what I imagine a first-century Jewish wedding would have looked like—lots of eating and drinking and singing and dancing. An uproarious and well-lubricated party! At one point, when Jesus was, wine glass in hand, exuberantly participating in an ad hoc line dance, my son leaned over to me and said, “dad, Jesus didn’t dance did he?”

Did he?

Well, yes, yes he probably did. He was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, actually… And he spent a fair amount of time with whores and tax collectors and various other unsavoury types… And he was a general irritant to the most of the respectable and well-schooled religious types of his day… And he caused division and confusion nearly everywhere he went. Dancing was probably among the least offensive and/or uncomfortable things that Jesus did! Not exactly the kind of gentle Jesus meek and mild you typically get in Sunday School class.

Jesus often behaves very differently than the Jesus we expect, the Jesus we think we know, the Jesus we prefer. This is just as true for smarty-pants pastor-types as it is for eleven-year-old boys. As the play wore on, I found myself growing increasingly frustrated with this Jesus and the way he spoke and acted. Especially in John’s gospel, Jesus’ language and behaviour is just so downright baffling at times. For some reason seeing this portrayed on a stage, as opposed to reading about it in words on a page, brought this out in a new way for me.

As I listened to Jesus talk about “living water” to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42), for example, or watched him write indecipherable words in the sand in front of the woman caught in adultery (8:6-8), or tried to make sense of him spitting in the dirt to make mud to heal a blind man (9:6-7), or mused about why, exactly, he said “before Abraham was, I am,” (8:58), or tried to follow the conversation between Jesus and his disciples who wanted Jesus to “show us the Father” (14:5-14), or restlessly listened to him offer evasive half-answers to Pilate and Caiaphas prior to his execution (18:19-38), or heard him telling the crowd that unless they ate his flesh and drank his blood they had no life in them (6:52-59), I found myself growing increasingly impatient with Jesus. With the disciples, I, too, found myself saying, “This is hard teaching [and behaviour!]. Who can accept it?”

At one point, about 90 minutes into the performance, as the toll of 30 degree heat was increasingly making itself felt on my weary body and brain, I wanted to yell out, “Seriously, Jesus!! Why can’t you just speak plainly?! Enough with the bizarre metaphors and cryptic comments about who you are and where you come from and about the nature of your authority!! Enough with the bewildering references to yourself in the third person!! For God’s sake, why can’t you just be a bit more direct?!?!

Like my son, I was encountering a different Jesus than the one I typically walk about with in my head. And, just as it was for my son, the experience was a bit disorienting, a bit confusing, and a bit uncomfortable. Not unlike it would have been for those in first century Palestine, come to think of it.

The more I reflected on the experience, the more I began to wonder if perhaps my son was right all along, if in an unexpected way. Jesus didn’t and doesn’t dance—at least not in the sense that his first hearers or we would like him to. He doesn’t dance to the tunes we play, and doesn’t respond to our preferred choreography for how he ought to speak and act and be in the world. He didn’t fit the profile of a Messiah back then, and he very often doesn’t fit the profile of divinity for us either. He is a relentlessly stubborn Saviour who refuses to behave himself for the sake of our comfort.

It is we who must learn to dance to his tune, not vice versa.

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. joyrunsdeep #

    Amen brother!3

    July 24, 2012
  2. Brian C. #

    “For God’s sake, why can’t you just be a bit more direct” – well said. You gave me a chuckle with that one. Sometimes I get the feeling that even as I call myself a Christ follower, I would have had a tough time understanding or embracing Jesus and his message if I there in the 1st century. This Good News still unsettles me too, even as one who’s been officially recognized by my denomination as a “minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

    I have regular chats with a neighbour of mine “over the fence” and his take on it is there are many paths to God, Christ being one of them. We can pick and choose what we want like a buffet. Christ doesn’t seem to domesticate well to our 21st century pluralistic or pantheistic sensibilities.

    ps Jesus also didn’t drink wine, it was grape juice – No Name brand, b/c Welch’s is too pricey.

    August 3, 2012
    • Yes, I had the same feeling as I was watching the play Brian. It was uncomfortably easy for me to identify with those who were baffled by and, ultimately, rejected Jesus.

      Your neighbour’s approach is a fairly common one these days, isn’t it? One option at the religious smorgasbord which we are free to sample (or not) or mix with the other dishes if we choose. It all comes down to the preferences of the consumer in so many domains of modern life, and, unfortunately, it’s no different when it comes to religion. We have largely lost the ability to be truly confronted by something “other” and to ask not, “does Jesus meet my needs (and how)?” but “what does Jesus require of me?”

      (Our church buys Welch’s… We must be holier :).)

      August 4, 2012
    • Daniel #

      Jesus didn’t drink grape juice. In his days they drank wine, and if they drank too much they would become drunk. Read the bible please.

      January 25, 2013
      • Yes, I’m aware of this, Daniel. I think you might be missing the sarcasm above.

        January 25, 2013
  3. Daniel #

    He very probably did dance. He was not your usual “movie Jesus”, but a fully human-flesh jewish person of his time, he did have a mundane job, he did work daily, he did have friends to spend his leisure time with and he liked to have fun and be happy as any other human being likes. So, you think at Cana he sat grumppy in a corner? Most probably he enjoyed the party (he kept it going on by supplying top quality wine), he loved spending time with his friends and his mother, and as the Bible says, he continued being invited to other parties as well. He must have been a pleasant person to be with — remember children loved coming to him. I am sure he had a lot of funny stories for them too. And yes, he smiled a lot.

    January 25, 2013
  4. mike #

    …I keep a framed picture of Jesus laughing on the wall in my ‘library’.It’s such a contrast to the solemn others i have.If you all are anything like me,it’s very difficult to sustain the perception of Jesus as being a real human for any length of time…..

    January 26, 2013
    • Maybe it’s a Mennonite thing, but I’ve never had a problem sustaining a perception of the humanity of Jesus. If anything, we focus too much on the humanity of Christ at the expense of the divinity :). Speaking in very broad strokes, of course…

      (I like the idea of a laughing Jesus on the wall!)

      January 26, 2013
      • mike #

        ..I just think that the Gospel writers could have done a lot better job at depicting DETAILS of Jesus’s humanity other than a short reference that he was once thirsty or hungry. Honestly,I’ve never been able to ascertain His humanness from the scriptures,He always appears ‘larger than life’ to me..much like a movie star does. I need to know that his feet hurt alot from walking so much and that he occasionally had to take a few days off with a back ache.Did he ever have a headache..Toothache? poisioning?..body odor..gas? etc etc etc. I just have a hard time relating to Messiah as partly human based on the historical accounts we’ve been given.

        January 26, 2013
      • Yeah, I think many of us would prefer more details about Jesus’ life. I tend to assume that the very idea of “incarnation” entails that nothing human was foreign to Jesus. Even gas :).

        I interpret Hebrews 4:15 quite broadly. I think that Jesus went through everything that ordinary human beings do. He was not some kind of super-human who floated high above the fray, untouched by the irritations and afflictions of the human condition. He entered it all. At least this is what I assume.

        January 27, 2013
  5. mike #

    ..I think this is why I get/recieve so much benefit from participating in the platforms of blogging and AA meetings.Being able to deeply relate and genuinely identify with other human beings on a very personal and intimate level is,it seems, a rare occurance.and for me,it’s both spiritual and transforming.I suppose there is a good reason that we’re not meant to know, in writing, the specific intimate details of how The Christ did Human-being,but it would sure help individuals like me who suffer from the malady of “terminal uniqueness’.

    January 29, 2013
  6. Nicholas #

    Ryan, you say that Jesus “spent a fair amount of time with whores and tax collectors and various other unsavoury types”, and I’m familiar with the references to tax collectors but not the whores! Can you give me your references?
    I’m frequently having this discussion with people about Jesus’ humanity, and the extent to which he lived a ‘normal’ life. Lots of born again Christians here (Uganda) insist on a Jesus who led an absolutely exemplary (in their view) life, refraining from – indeed, frowning upon – such everyday activities as dancing, drinking and generally enjoying a bit of fun. They insist that these kinds of act are intrinsically sinful, that Jesus could never have indulged in anything of the sort and that we, by extension, should avoid them.
    When I mention the marriage at Cana, and Jesus’ first miracle, they dismiss it by saying that there’s no evidence Jesus himself drank the wine, or that it wasn’t really alcoholic, etc. My own belief is that Jesus was thoroughly comfortable in the company of people we might today describe as ‘low-lifes’ – those scorned & excluded by ‘decent’ people – and that his messages of humility, forgiveness and judgement were informed by the experiences he had with such people. But my references for backing this up are scant, so help me out!

    September 18, 2017
    • Hi Nicholas, I suppose the statement of mine that you cite would be based on passages like Luke 7:33-35 (“the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’) or Matthew 21:31-33 (“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you). Jesus’ reputation seems to be of hanging out in the wrong crowd. And his words about the tax collectors and prostitutes seem to imply that he actually spent time with them.

      Aside from specific texts, the overall impression I get from reading the gospels is that Jesus irritated “religious people” who obsessed about this or that sin/legal infraction and that the “wrong” people (tax-collectors, prostitutes, ritually unclean people) were drawn to him like a moth to a flame. I think Jesus has always been more at home with “sinners” than with “religious people” (at least a certain kind of religious people). This is both wonderfully liberating and a sort of warning to religious people like me. 🙂

      September 18, 2017
      • Nicholas Doyle #

        Thanks Ryan, good of you to respond. I’ve had a look at the references and chased a few cross-references down. As you say, the impression of Jesus as someone who hung out with the socially excluded is built up over a whole host of incidents. I particularly like the one in Luke 5:27-32, where Jesus recruits the tax collector Levi, who then hosts a big dinner for Jesus and the Pharisees complain about him hanging out with all these ‘sinners’.
        Anyway, you’ve given me a good starting point to look for other relevant references, so thanks for that. I’ll be a lot better equipped to engage in those challenging conversations about what Jesus really did, or did not do in future!

        September 23, 2017
  7. Heidi L. Bower #

    Actually Jesus was not a jerk. He was telling the truth to the world and gave the world free will to choose to believe him or not. He also ministered with the unsavory types about salvation. He said it’s the sick that need a doctor. Not the healthy. And since when being the Son of God who knew more about God than everyone was a dull job. Plus the Pharisees thought they respectable but they were wrong. They wanted to put Jesus in a box instead of accepting him for who He was. Then the world killed Him. How is that respectable?

    August 26, 2021

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