Years ago, I was amazed to
discover that employees of Disneyland and Disney World were prohibited from having facial
hair especially since Walter Disney sported a mustache!
Students of the history of religion probably wouldnt
have been so surprised. They often remind us that it doesnt take long for disciples
of the founders of religious movements to deliberately remove or simply forget aspects of
their mentors habits and personality which are embarrassing to them. We catch a
glimpse of the historical Jesus "mustache" in Sundays Gospel (Mk 7:
When we think of Jesus healing miracles, we picture
just two "elements:" Jesus and the person to be healed. But notice that Mark,
the earliest evangelist, has three elements. "Jesus took [the deaf man] off by
himself away from the crowd. He put His finger into the mans ear and, spitting,
touched his tongue; then He looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him,
Ephphata! that is, Be opened!"
This third (embarrassing) element is spit.
Scholars believe the historical Jesus frequently used objects
like spit and mud in His healing ministry. But as the miracle stories made the rounds of
the early Christian communities, people started zeroing in on the essential elements
Jesus and the healed person and eliminated the non-essential. The more
people stressed Jesus divinity, the more they ignored the natural elements He
employed in His ministry.
Familiar with passages from the Hebrew Scriptures like the
first reading (Is 35: 4-7) about Yahwehs expected visit to the Chosen People,
Jesus first followers identified His actions with Yahwehs actions: "The
eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap
like a stag, then the tongues of the mute will sing."
Christians couldnt hear those words without thinking of
Jesus. And, more and more, it was the Yahweh/Jesus they thought of, not the human/Jesus.
We also notice this "de-mustaching" process at work
in the second reading (James 2: 1-5). Even the most liberal Scripture scholars
those who believe the Gospels contain almost nothing from the actual historical
Jesus ministry will concede one point about their portrayal of Him: He
regularly associated with people who were off the bottom rung of the social ladder.
Rich and poor
Yet, when James writes, two or three generations after
Jesus death and Resurrection, he must warn his community about a situation that
could never have happened during Jesus ministry: "For if someone with gold
rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also
comes in,...you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, Sit here,
please, while you say to the poor one, Stand there, or Sit at my
Rev. John McKenzie once wrote that it only took a few years
for Jesus followers to stop being criticized for the things for which Jesus had been
criticized. The criticism didnt end because society had accepted Christian behavior
and made it the norm. Christians had simply stopped doing what Jesus had done.
Although we follow the risen Jesus, not the historical Jesus,
its still important to learn as much as we can about the historical Jesus. He
didnt arrive in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago and instantly morph into a resurrected
state. His human personality was based on the unique ways He related to people and used
Gods creation. And it was that personality which initially set Him apart from
Rev. Ed Hays always reminds his audiences, "Jesus
first followers imitated Him long before they worshiped Him." It seems they
didnt mind the mustache.