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Our question of the week is one I’ve heard in various forms from children for as long as I’ve worked with them. “How do I know Jesus when I see him?” This is an interesting question because usually it’s come to mind after a child has seen someone who reminds them of their view of Jesus. It is always worth asking why they want to know. If they answer that they saw someone who looks like the images of Jesus they’ve seen, then it may be a good time to talk about what Jesus may have actually looked like.
There is value in seeing a Jesus who looks like us (we’ll talk more about this later) but there are also issues. A Jesus who has a very common look can bring about similar confusion as seeing “Santa” at the beach. The idea that Jesus is “with us” is a common one (see our lectionary text this week) and can be confusing for children. The idea that Jesus is with us in spirit can be explained to some older children, but many others are looking for something physical to grasp on to.
Another person children sometimes see as Jesus are those who have roles similar to the stories of Jesus they have heard. This is particularly true of Shepherds (or even when they see sheep and assume the next person they see is a shepherd, or wonder where the shepherd is). This is also true in places like zoos who have animals similar to sheep. The questions to talk about in these cases build around the roles of those who are caring for the sheep or other animals. This can be particularly effective to watch episodes of Animal Planet’s The Zoo or The Aquarium which focus heavily on the relationships between the caretakers and the animals (just be prepared for a potential bird & bee discussion, but not something many kids will understand or question). The closeness formed between animal and keeper is very similar to the relationship between shepherd and sheep and also between God and ourselves. This is a great place to talk about how God shows care for us and help children begin to see the indirect ways (food on table, clothes, people who love us) God cares for us and how we need to care for one another.
Likewise, many children view their pastor as “Jesus.” Particularly in this time when families are not always worshiping with their home church, I’ve talked with some families who are beginning to realize that their children connect the idea of Jesus with the collars worn by clergy or the robes and stoles. The question many of them ask when viewing another church’s service is “Why does Jesus look different?” In situations like this I encourage talking about the role the pastor/priest has and the things Jesus did while on earth. I will never forget that at a former call the day care kids knew our head of staff as “Jesus” because they saw him in chapel, but also because every time they saw him, he would stop and listen to them and show them love. Likewise, I’ve heard kids call Pastor Rachel “Girl Jesus” and talk about how she is at outreach events helping others when they’ve seen her. It is these actions which can help have a discussion about Jesus’s call for us to follow him and be his hands and feet today.
No matter how the question comes up, it is a great question to have a family discussion around the things Jesus did and how Jesus lived and what that may look like for us today. It also can be a great time to talk about who Jesus would love and be with. (One other group of people who kids often say are Jesus are homeless, this can be a powerful discussion of loving everyone as if they were God and God’s love for everyone) Regardless of how it comes up, talking about these things is a great way to help children recognize Jesus not just as a look or a role, but as love among us. Amen.
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