“You must choose, but choose wisely. For as the true grail will bring you life, the false grail will take it from you.” – Grail Knight
And so it is laid out. Life hanging in the balance and the means to save within grasp if one but has the capacity to see it for what it truly is. The power-lusting Nazi, Walter Donovan, proceeds instantly, but soon pauses in marvel at the many golden goblets and chalices .
“I’m no historian, I have no idea what it looks like.”
Deferring to the undoubtedly more refined tastes and sensibilities of the ravishing Dr. Elsa Schneider, he holds aloft the glittering, jewel-encrusted vessel of her choosing.
“It’s more beautiful than I ever imagined. This is certainly the cup of The King of Kings.”
It ends for Walter, as the Grail Knight phrases it, rather poorly.
The intrepid Dr. Jones goes next. Scanning across the ornate array, he quickly identifies the Grail. It’s small, worn, and drab.
“That’s the cup of a carpenter.”
In thinking on this well-known climactic scene to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade I had the startling realization that I readily identify with Walter Donovan. Not that I’m a Nazi, mind you, but that with regards to matters of religious significance I am no historian. And it would seem that in the absence of objective historical knowledge, the mythical often rises to stake that claim.
“When the Son of man shall come in glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory.” -Matt. 25:31
Who was the Son of man? In the faith of my upbringing it was certainly acknowledged that Christ forsook a life of employ and stability to travel with a message of peace. Beyond this, however, lies a disconnect concerning Christ that manifests itself in the media produced in his honor. A clean, well-dressed Caucasian with voluminous (and undoubtedly heavily conditioned) flowing hair. I have no doubt, though, that this image would conflict with Dr. Jones’ archaeological and anthropological assertion. While Christ’s exact ethnicity is unclear, it’s a stretch to imagine that a nomadic and financially destitute individual would manage to appear immaculately groomed in public and perhaps an offense to His anti-materialistic cause to suggest he cared enough to spend any effort to address it. I imagine Jesus, like most transient individuals I cross paths with, appeared rather unkempt though bathed when and where he could when the graciousness of others to use better facilities was not available. I imagine he was sweaty, reeked, had matted hair and discolored teeth. But, even if this were the case how did this change of imagined-appearance come to be and why does it really even matter?
Church attendance throughout my life has been in a white button-up shirt with a tie (when not in a full-on business suit) in a building that cost millions of dollars. I concerned myself with daily scripture reading and prayer in preparation for entering the holy temple, an even more expensive, blindingly white building to engage in ritualistic ceremonies in the pursuit of eternal life. I listened intently to successful businessmen-turned-evangelists tell of their own similar experiences. I spent two years walking door-to-door inviting others to attend, pay money, cease beer and coffee drinking, gain membership, serve other members, adhere unwaveringly to leaders, go to the temple, make their own promises through ritualistic ceremonies, and subsequently remain faithful to the institution.
I did this all this, and more, to honor a homeless vagrant who wanted nothing more than to see the human family get along through the individual achievement of attaining inner-peace.
Sound strange? It should. My convictions have been not been modeled after the historical Jesus, but the mythical one. My religion was not a practice in the words of the Traveling Teacher, but an emulation of the unfounded perception of the Heavenly Kingdom in which he allegedly rules. The search for the least of these was tangential. The radiant, floating, death-conqueror whose very presence compels all to kneel. I have, for the better part of 30 years, fashioned a gold, jewel-encrusted goblet from a dirty clay cup. And it, as the false grail it ultimately was, indeed stole life from me by placing me on a religious treadmill and developing a sense of pride therefrom.
How this has come to be for me personally is a complex matter. Though, in reference to the Book of Matthew passage above, is largely attributable to the single word “glory”. Christ reportedly was, exhibited, and revealed glory. But what does this mean about Him then and now?
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” -John 17:20-23 (Underline added)
I believe the heart of glory lies in Christ’s own words above. That glory is the love-flowing means by which we identify, understand, empathize and bear compassion with one to another. The following story illustrates this ideal well.
“And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him. And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them. And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him, and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” -Luke 24:13-16, 28-32 (Underline added)
This is not to say that there is no arguable position that an aspect of glory is of the “shock and awe” variety or that Jesus Christ did (does) not have some form of nearly indiscernible and indescribable aura about his person that testified(ies) to his persuasive message. Rather my life is a demonstration of how the mythical mis-portrayal of Christ can invite the follies of idolatry.
It is my personal belief that it is very much Christ’s desire that his glory be felt “as our heart burning within us” in a very personal and intimate setting. But for those unwilling and expecting a blinding, face-melting experience may very well see that glory too.
The choice is there. Choose wisely.