The body of Christ has Downs Syndrome

Someone sent me a bunch of articles on practical theology which I am ploughing my way through in idle moments. The other day I was reading one by John Swinton (2003 Journal of Pastoral Theology) called “The Body of Christ has Down’s Syndrome”, in which he quotes a care worker as saying “I sometimes wonder if Jesus had Down ’s syndrome”.
When it came down to it, neither Swinton nor the careworker went on dogmatically to defend their hypothesis, if only because probability is stacked against them. But it is interesting to think that if a film-maker portrayed Jesus as having Down’s syndrome (to give but one example) it would definitely cause a reaction, be it positive or negative, and it would be most likely referred to by the critics as “making a statement”. Conversely, when Jesus is shown as being blonde and blue eyed, as in the film we endured enjoyed the other week, no-one bats an eye lid, even though statistically it is even less likely that Jesus was blonde than that he had Down’s syndrome. This portrayal of Jesus becomes even more questionable in the light of passages such as Isaiah 53 which suggest that Jesus had nothing striking about his appearance, and Mark 6 where they ask “Isn’t that the carpenter?” i.e. where did this common or garden bloke get this teaching from? The fact that scripture tells us virtually nothing about Jesus’ appearance means that we have to guess that he was probably quite similar to the people around him, so while he was unlikely to have had Down’s syndrome, he definitely wasn’t blonde.

I think this relates to something that Francis Young would refer to as the “idolization of Jesus” which when I first read that phrase I thought it was a strange concept, and I thought she was about to try and tell me why Jesus wasn’t really God or why he shouldn’t really be worshipped, but actually she went on to talk about how we create a false idol out of the real God. I suspect our reaction to “the Jesus with Down’s syndrome” compared with our non-reaction to “the blonde Jesus” is about our idolization of him, that it is OK (in our minds at least) to tell lies about Jesus as long as our fictitious image of him is one which is recognised as positive by our own society. The net result of which is that we prevent Jesus from challenging our stereotypes by ensuring that our “graven image” of him fits right into them.

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