If Jesus Returned Today, Would Anyone Recognize Him?

I read a play many years ago. I’m not sure of the title. It was about a casting call for the role of Jesus in a movie. The casting director needed to decide which of the many actors before him would be the best fit to play Jesus. There was a diverse array of actors, each dressed like Jesus with long hair and a beard. And the casting director had in front of him a large number of traditional images of Jesus. But each of the images had a different appearance. No two artistic or historical portrayals of the appearance of Christ were the same.

Then a man enters for the audition, and his appearance is striking. He looks like all of the images of Christ, even though they are all different from one another. His demeanor and mannerisms are different from the actors striving for the role. And of course the audience of the play is supposed to realize that this One is the real Jesus. But which Jesus does the casting director choose. Not the real Jesus. He doesn’t seem quite right for the role, from the point of view of a casting director.

Now let’s consider a hypothetical, in which Jesus returns, and we have to realize it is really Him. First of all, this is a counter-factual hypothetical. I don’t believe that Jesus has returned yet. His return is in the distant future. Also, when He returns, his return is seen and known by everyone. He does not return in secret, nor is He born again to grow up a second time, nor does he need to walk around trying to convince everyone that He has returned.

But in this hypothetical, there are many persons claiming to be Jesus. And for the sake of argument, let’s say that none of them, including the real Jesus, performs miracles. Jesus decides not to do so, and the others can’t. You have to figure out which is the real Jesus solely by His words. And to make the choice rest solely on His words, let’s stipulate further that the real Jesus doesn’t look like the historical Jesus. No long hair or beard. Even His appearance of His face and perhaps His ethnicity are different. He could be short or tall, fat or skinny, white, black, Asian, etc. So in this hypothetical, the only way to decide between all the different claimed Christs is by the teaching of each.

Well, isn’t that true today? There are many different versions of Jesus, that is, many different claims about what Christianity and Catholicism supposedly teach. And we have to decide which one is the real Jesus, the real Gospel teaching of Christ.

So to continue the hypothetical, what would happen? I think that many traditionalist Catholics would choose the version of Jesus who is a traditionalist, who says Mass in Latin and primarily speaks about liturgical form and the concerns of traditionalists. And most liberal Catholics would choose the liberal version of Jesus, who teaches the same ideas that they have already accepted in their minds and hearts. Then those Catholics who are overly concerned with private revelation would follow the version of Jesus who emphasizes that topic. And Catholics who overly-politicize Catholicism would choose the politicalized version of Jesus. And so on.

Each Catholic Christian today does not want a Teacher who actually teaches them truths they did not understand before. And much less do they want a Teacher who corrects their misunderstandings or asks them to repent from their sins. So if they had to choose between all the different fake versions of Jesus and the real Jesus, they would choose the real Jesus last of all. They would reject the real Jesus immediately, because He would be confronting them about their sins, teaching them truths they did not know before, and correcting their misunderstandings. And few Christians today are willing to admit their sins, accept new truths, and stand corrected on ideas they mistakenly thought were right.

The Church today is in a dire state. Each Catholic thinks that the version of Catholicism in their own heart and mind is the real Jesus. And if the Church, or the Pope, or the Bible, or a Saint, or Jesus himself says otherwise, they ignore, radically reinterpret, or openly reject all that is contrary to their own mind and heart. So they are not really worshipping Jesus at all. They are inwardly worshipping themselves, in effect.

Of course, there are many faithful Catholics — not everyone has gone astray. And among Protestants, there are many faithful Christians who worship the true Jesus, despite the failings of Protestant theology. But I would say that most Catholics do not really believe and practice the true Catholic faith. They have altered the teachings of the Church to accord with their own ideas, and to diminish the culpability of their own sins.

And this is true also of many popular Catholic teachers, leaders, authors, bloggers, who are widely but incorrectly considered to be faithful to the Church. They teach an altered version of Catholicism, and neither they, nor their readers, realize that this is not the real Jesus. Most Catholics today, including many Catholic leaders, are unable to distinguish the true teaching of Christ in His Church from various distortions of Church teaching. Many Catholic leaders are teaching a version of Church teaching which has been distorted so as to agree with their own mind and heart, with their own faulty reasonings and disordered ideas.

And when they are presented with the true teachings of Jesus in His Church, they do not recognize the face of Jesus in that teaching.

We are all fallen sinners. The version of Christianity in each of our minds and hearts is not the same as in the Person of Jesus. But if you can’t get beyond yourself and believe in teachings that are absolutely contradicted by your own heart and mind, then you might as well set up your own Church worshipping your own ideas. Faith is believing in truths that are contradicted by your own mind and heart, by your own thoughts, feelings, and experiences. And if your faith in particular has no such contradictions, you don’t really have faith. Or, you are actually Jesus, the Son of God.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 Responses to If Jesus Returned Today, Would Anyone Recognize Him?

  1. domzerchi says:

    Jesus comes to us every day in the Eucharist, and many fail to recognize him.

  2. RepententFool says:

    Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ but is rejected by many despite His compassion and love being like that of Christ. Many Catholics have a fortress mentality because they fear being decieved by modernism. So when Francis ignores small t traditions and does something compassionate they see him as a false prophet out to deceive them rather than a man who follows Jesus, who was also persecuted for healing on the sabbath. So scared are people of modernism that even the magisterium has to pass through their inspection. I myself was guilty of this but had a spiritual awakening this Sunday. Please pray for me that I might not run away like a coward again.I need to stop being scared of conspiracy theories and private revelations that make me distrustful of the bishops and Pope.

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