I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between skilled fiction writers and the actors who portray the characters in their stories. Movie and television writers can take a popular novel and re-write it into a script, with lines of dialogue for fictional characters and descriptions of pretend-scenes. And then actors can transform that script into a visual account on the screen; a believable story that isn’t really true. It’s just believable.
How an individual can somehow change the person they are in real life, almost instantly, and somehow become a totally different and believable character has always amazed me. The town of Mayberry was never a real town. It was a pretend town. And Don Knotts wasn’t Don Knotts on the screen. He was the loveable Barney Fife, the deputy with a gun with no bullets. He had a badge with no authority to back it up. I heard Andy Griffith say once that, while he and Don Knotts were very close personal friends, when Don Knotts came onto the lot, he became Barney Fife, even when they weren’t doing a particular scene. As long as he was wearing his badge, and carrying his gun with no bullets, he was Barney Fife. It was as if he wasn’t acting. He was Barney.
In three of the Gospels, there is an account of a discussion Jesus had with his disciples, in which he asked them a rather strange question. Jesus asks a ‘character’ question of his disciples: “Who do people say that I am?” The answers would have been quite telling, I think, if Jesus had been an actor. His portrayal of life and commitment to God was so believable that some people really believed he was John the Baptist, come back to life after being beheaded. Some people thought he was more believable as Elijah, come back to life. Others saw him as Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. I suppose, if Jesus had been acting, receiving those kinds of reviews of his performance would have been admirable. I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy making people believe you were someone who had been dead for hundreds and hundreds of years; that would be worth some kind of academy award for any aspiring actor?
But Jesus wasn’t an actor. He wasn’t pretending to be God in the flesh. He wasn’t some Barney Fife character with no authority behind his badge. He wasn’t assuming a fictitious identity. And so, he asked a personal question of his disciples:
“And you? Who do you say I am?” Peter, the Rock stands to his feet when he delivered his incredible declaration. What he actually said was, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
You may not have thought about it before, but there is no pretending in Jesus. He didn’t act like a man pretending to be God. And he didn’t act like a God pretending to be man. Heaven isn’t some imaginary, idyllic place, some peaceful Mayberry in the sky.
I think one of the most important things we can ever say to Jesus “Help me not pretend. Help me be the real me, who knows and loves the real and only you, the Living Word and Son of the Living God.”