Some years ago, at a used book sale, I encountered a book with a black and white copy of this picture as its frontpiece. I was struck by two things. The first was how comfortable the businessman seemed with his Lord and Savior sitting across from him (more on that later) and the second is why is Jesus dressed the way he is?
Before we go any further with either of these ideas I have to set some ground rules.
#1 – The man portrayed in this pictures is Jesus. The Jesus, from the New Testament. He is not just some random hippie who wandered into a 20th story office in a large city (look out the window) to ask about getting insurance on his VW Micro-Bus.
#2 – The businessman believes that he is talking to his risen Lord (and not what I said in #1) and is not just humoring him.
#3 – Also, I’m a non-believer and I was never a Christian. I am not trying to be snarky about people’s faith, only about how religion is used.
So, second point first, why is Jesus dressed the way he is always portrayed, in a bathrobe held shut with curtain cord and wearing sandals? Sure, in portrayals of him 2000 years ago that made sense. I mean everyone dressed like that then. But why now? Is it because He would be less credible in a suit and tie?
Of course, it’s the first point that really concerns me. After all, I have seen hundreds, maybe thousands of representations of Jesus. Preaching, healing, cuddling lambs, even visiting children in the hospital, apparently to heal them. I mean anyone can just visit them. I find those somewhat disturbing, imagining the kid in the next bed trying to get His attention. “Uh, mister. Mister Jesus. Hello?”
But this was a new one for me. I had no idea at the time that there was an entire sub-genre of pictures of Jesus with businessmen. That is why the businessman’s attitude was so surprising. Look at him. Look how comfortable he is. Leaning back, smiling, resting his chin on his hand, holding his glasses delicately in one hand (are those pince-nez?). He’s not worried about anything. Even supposing his books are in order and he’s not keeping some buxom showgirl in an apartment nearby, doesn’t everyone have something to feel guilty about?
Not this guy. He is very comfortable with the idea that he and God’s only begotten son are pretty much on the same page. Whatever his views on the poor, civil rights, the war in Viet-Nam – God approves and Jesus is probably telling him so right now. I would think that any man, even a Christian from whatever denomination is the right one, would worry a little. Shouldn’t there be at least one tiny drop of sweat on his brow? Not on this guy. It’s the Second Coming and he feels fine!
I didn’t buy that book but when I thought about it recently I did a Google search of “Jesus and Businessman” and found more. Consider this one.
At first I thought this was some kind of a talk show with the caption “So, Jesus, does this clip need a set-up?” But now it looks more like “Jesus gets called to the principal’s office”. Look at the guy’s posture, the way he’s leaning forward and pointing while Jesus sits back and takes it. This guy is schooling Jesus, hard. Is he lecturing Him on how difficult he said it was for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven? Harder than shoving a camel through the eye of a needle indeed! Or that stuff about feeding the poor and clothing the naked, without a word about profit margins and how much money you can save by making those clothes in Asian sweatshops (while bribing US congressmen to let them put “Made in USA” on the labels)? The picture gives no clue, but the businessman is certainly taking no guff from the star of the Bible.
This one is a bit confusing. Is the caption “Jesus, meet my friend Bob” or is it “Bob, meet my friend Jesus”? Either way, the guy on the right is clearly in charge. It is his office and he decides who gets invited to these after-hours meetings. The staff is gone for the day and it’s just about the big guys. Notice that their hands have not clasped yet. Did the guy on the left wipe his sweaty palm on his pants and, if so, who was he more afraid of, Jesus or the guy with the power to summon him to a one-on-one, face to face meeting with the guy he learned about at Vacation Bible Camp?
Frankly, I find this painting rather disturbing. Jesus has returned to Earth to give this businessman a Mani-Pedi. I’m sure the thousands of people struggling to survive at minimum wage jobs or living in internment camps would appreciate a little face time but no, Jesus is washing some capitalists feet.
So what is the significance of these paintings? I’ve seen so much Christian art over the years and never have I seen pictures of Jesus hanging out on the verandas of Roman villas or chatting with the rich and powerful. He’s always shown in the trenches curing the sick and raising the dead. When did the rich and powerful usurp Christian belief for their own purposes so that they can justify interfering in how people live because they disagree?
Hardly a day goes by where you don’t hear some tycoon deciding that he has the right (by virtue of the millions he spends) to decide who gets to vote and who doesn’t. Sure they’re just one guy and they have the right to their opinion, but why is everyone listening? When was the last time a poor person called a press conference to announce his views on who can marry whom and what working people should be paid? Since the Sermon on the Mount, I mean. And now here is Jesus, meeting secretly with the rich and powerful, giving them his full attention and apparently his approval. Is that what Christians actually believe?