“I am the way and the truth and the life…If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (NIV John 14:6-7)
While he is often revered as having been one of the most, if not the most, influential characters in history, Jesus was probably my most controversial choice for this particular topic. Many people would say that he lived his life spiritually, even religiously, but I doubt many people would say he lived his life in joy. Indeed, for a man so influential throughout time, Jesus’s life was extremely short (he was crucified at 33), his death was exceedingly painful, and his daily life was filled with sacrifice. He seems too somber a figure to include on short list of historical figures who lived in joy. Yet Jesus is a perfect example of how living in joy can be measured in many different ways.
From a historical standpoint, we know very little about Jesus’s life. What we do know comes from four writers, all of whom we know only on a first name basis, who wrote descriptive accounts of his life. While stories within their accounts conflict at times, they present the overall view of a man who lived his beginning years as a normal Jewish child and his later years as a teacher, healer, and nomad (there’s a huge gap in the middle of which we know nothing). In the later years, he is depicted as a compassionate man, who worked endlessly to heal humanity from itself. Why do I believe, then, that Jesus lived his life in joy? Because his strength of character and his boundless energy stemmed from a source of power that allowed him to touch people deeply, although he often knew them for a very short time. I believe this source of power was in fact an internal happiness he had found within himself and God.
And how exactly did Jesus tap into this source of power, which he labeled as “The Spirit of Truth” (i.e. “The Holy Spirit”) and “God’s love”? First and foremost, before I speak to the question, let me clarify it. The source of power seemed to flow through him, welling up inside him and spilling into everything he did. The reason why I want to clarify this is because the former wording implies that he had to act in order to gain the source of power that allowed him to live in joy; the latter wording, because it is passive, does not. Jesus did not have to do anything to enable God’s love to flow through him. All he had to do was be.
Two key characteristics arose in Jesus’s life as a result of his living in joy. These two are attitudes: servanthood and acceptance. While the characteristics servanthood and acceptance do not in any way encompass all of the person Jesus was, they do shed some light on the result of living one’s life in joy. They also give us some insight into how people perceived Jesus during his time and how some people perceive him to this day. What these characteristics were and how they linked to his joy will be the subjects of our further discussion.
“If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (NIV Mark 9:35)
Teaching. Healing. Feeding crowds of thousands. Counseling. Praying and meditating for the benefit of others and himself. Dying in sacrifice for humanity. Everything Jesus did in his life seemed to be linked to his humility, which was an outward sign of his attitude of servanthood. His humility flooded his every word and action, from his teachings to his healing of others.
Repeatedly, his followers tried to label him a “god”. He repeatedly denied these labels, ever pointing to God, his Father, as the divine being who drove his life. He even went so far as to deny being “good”. When a ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit the eternal life?” (Luke 18:18), Jesus first dealt with the label of “good”. He replies: “No one is good – except God alone” (Luke 18:19). Jesus’s denial of these labels shows his obedient attitude; his master was God, and he spent his life serving God and the other people whom he met.
Jesus also showed an attitude of servanthood in his rejection of any recognition. He regularly healed invalids, the sick and even the dead, but he took no credit for these. He taught thousands of people about salvation, but would not allow any one of them to pay him or give him anything in return. The only reward he sought was from God.
Now, how does joy fit into Jesus’s attitude of servanthood? Well, here’s what I think. Jesus’s life shows that he was devoid of ego; his attitude of servanthood was an outpouring of this hollowed self. The source for all actions was from God. Jesus allowed God to move through him, to pervade his every thought and action. Therefore, everything he did was according God’s will. His joy came from the knowledge that he was constantly fulfilling God’s will for his life. Every action he performed spoke to this joy. He was filled with joy everyday of his life because he knew that what he was doing was exactly what he should be doing with his life according to God’s will. Wouldn’t we all be joyful if we knew the same? Jesus’s attitude of servanthood is a testament to his life in joy. By serving others, he was, in fact, propagating his own joy.
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (NIV Luke 6:27-31)
Acceptance was a vital part of Jesus’ life. Whether Jew or Gentile (i.e. anyone who was not Jewish), rich or poor, Jesus accepted each person with whom he came into contact graciously. Yet his acceptance flowed deeper than ethnicity or socio-economic status. He accepted each person fully, without any kind of constraint or boundary placed upon it. Thus, his acceptance, like his love of humanity, was unconditional. He was completely oblivious to individual past histories, sins, or denials; he was only interested in the present. Even the way in which a person behaved in the present didn’t really condition his acceptance or love. A perfect example of this idea comes from Mark 6:45-56. This passage speaks to a massive storm that comes while the disciples are fishing in a boat on the sea. They become frightened as the storm rages and as they see a man walking on the water. It is Jesus, of course, and he is walking on the water to calm the storm. Until they realize the man is Jesus, though, they are completely terrified. This story perfectly illustrates Jesus’s acceptance of his disciples, who were his closest companions. After following him for many years, seeing endless miracles and hearing his words describing his relationship with both God and man, they were still afraid when they saw him. The disciples’ fear must have disappointed Jesus greatly because it must have seemed like they just didn’t understand what he had been talking about for so long. Even though he knew that each of the disciples had the ability to walk on water and calm the storm as well, they were too afraid to try. Yet his acceptance and love was readily available to them, as it had always been, reaching outward with widespread hands, touching each disciple with insight into the love God must bestow on humankind.
Acceptance was directly linked with joy in Jesus’s life. Acceptance allowed him to transcend class and cultural identity; he did not need to worry about who to love and who not to love. His love was for all. Thus, his life in joy partly derived from his acceptance for everyone; no one was excluded from his inner sanctum of truth. He could be all that God wanted him to be – a state of mind that brought Jesus great joy – because he did not need to worry about the world’s perception of him or his perception of the world. His attitude of unconditional acceptance and love and living in the present gave him the joy he lived in his life.