Fourth is the apologetics Jesus.
Another trap active, blog-reading, Church-defending Catholics can easily fall into is reducing Jesus to the master key to apologetics: the figure who makes our arguments make sense.
He often doesn’t start out that way. We discover apologetics, realize our faith is not absurd, and it straightens out our lives and gets us back into a relationship with God for a time. The problem happens when we stop there. Our relationship has to progress from, “I finally ‘get’ Jesus. He shows how the Church is right and the world is wrong!” to “Jesus is true, and beautiful, and mysterious, and the world and I both need to struggle to understand him better.”
Ultimately, the apologetics Jesus is not that different from the “historical Jesus” that skeptics like to speculate about: He is an object of human scholarship, a fascinating but remote figure of our intellect.
The fifth Jesus is Mary’s son — and God the Son.
How to avoid the misunderstandings? Alas, I won’t be able to sum up the real Jesus in a few sentences, but in his January 1 homily Pope Francis gave a key: “Our faith is not an abstract doctrine or philosophy, but a vital and full relationship with a person: Jesus Christ,” the real God who really shared in our humanity and really does stay with us in the sacraments.
The truth is, my misunderstandings about Jesus are not that different from my misunderstandings about other people in my life. I tend to vilify, romanticize or dismiss my wife at various points in our relationship, too, before remembering that she is flesh and blood. The best way to correct my understanding of my wife is to spend more time with her – talking to her and listening. So it is with Jesus.
The problem with all of these misunderstandings is that they make Jesus a means to an end, rather than an end in himself. We will never understand the real Jesus until we meet him where he can be found: in the Scriptures, in the tabernacle, in the confessional, in the community of believers, and in the teachings of the Church.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.