A few months ago, I became involved in a somewhat heated discussion between friends. The central topic of that discussion was about what the Savior would do if someone who had once had a testimony left the church and became very vocal against the Gospel. One stood firm in his belief that the Savior would be bold and unashamed, even if it meant hurting the feelings or turning over the spiritual tables, if you will, of His critics. The other defended his belief that the Savior would be infinitely loving and kind to them. Both held their ground, and the discussion eventually came to a reluctant draw, neither really abandoning their original opinion.
As I’ve looked back on that conversation, I’ve found myself incredibly fascinated by how each of my friends chose to identify with the Savior, and by extension, how anybody chooses to identify with Him. When it comes to using the Savior’s example to defend our beliefs, our behaviors, and even the actions of others, I’ve noticed that most of us pick out and relate to just one of His traits. Most people identify with a Savior who is very accepting — I myself tend to identify with that. Others identify with a Savior who is bold and even, at times, offensive, as Christ would have been to those in His day who did not understand Him or accept Him. I’ve witnessed many conversations, online and offline, where these two characteristics are pitted against each other, as if they are both mutually exclusive or the only traits Jesus Christ ever had.
I think that by doing that, however, we don’t fully understand who Christ was or the extent of His capacity to understand us.
The truth is that Jesus Christ, in His mortal ministry, was not a unidimensional figure. He cannot be classified as only “The Righteously Angered Savior” or “The Loving Savior.” Though He is the Lord, He was also human. He was complex and dynamic. He felt the full scope of our emotions and feelings, not only when He atoned for us, but when He walked and lived among us. His message was simple, but His personality was more intricate.
The Savior did not just turn the tables of the money changers in the temple. He sat at the tables of sinners and Publicans and ate with them. The Savior was not completely accepting. He, in fact, called the Pharisees fools, serpents, and vipers, “full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanliness” (Matthew 23:27). He loved those whom others would not love, He touched those whom others dared not touch. He said of enemies, “Love them as thyself,” while defending His Father with boldness and courage. He was often frustrated by the Pharisees and Jews who would not accept His message, but He also atoned for them. He said, from His cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He would let sinners wash His feet, and He would wash the feet of His disciples. He would teach at the head of large crowds, and He would stoop in the dust to address the one. He was often burdened by sadness. He sought isolation following the death of His friend, John the Baptist, and He wept to see the anguish of Lazarus’s friends. He was also filled with joy, walking among the Nephites and thanking His Father for them. He was tender, and He was firm. He was filled with sorrow for His brothers and sisters who strayed, and He was pleased to see the faith of those who followed Him. At times surrounded by thronging crowds, He was both hardly alone and often very lonely, left and betrayed by some of His dearest friends and left entirely alone in his last moments on Earth.
The truth, if it be fully told of Jesus Christ, is that He is not a Savior who only knows how to love or rebuke. He is a Savior who hurts, who joys, who agonizes, who celebrates, who weeps, who smiles, who angers, who corrects, and who adores. When we speak of Him, let us do so with the reverence that comes from realizing that He is not just who He says He is, but He’s more than we too often give Him credit for.