As someone living in Nazareth, I think about Jesus far more often than I might have otherwise. Not, of course, as the object of devotion of followers who never met him, or as the figurehead of a set of institutions that cashed in on his fame long after he was dead.
I think about him as a historical figure, as a revolutionary thinker and as someone who, I believe, so inspired the small number of people of his time whose paths crossed his that word of his teachings spread, in an era before 24-hour rolling news, like wildfire.
What would a Jesus look like now? Or a Buddha? Or any of the other historical figures who stopped being flesh-and-blood people and became sanctified and abstract concepts?
I guess they looked very much of their time, connecting to ordinary people by appearing much like them but at the same time seeming very different, filled with strange and beautiful thoughts that radiated light and intensity that dazzled those who heard them.
And I guess if Jesus turned up now, in our troubled times, he might look a bit like Russell Brand. He would speak magical thoughts, but not with a BBC diction, and at a speed that could hold the attention of our soundbite-addicted minds. He’d have the trappings of celebrity and fashion, while at the same time using our adoration of these things to try to teach us about their superficiality and transience. In our postmodern age, he might even have an ironic stage or TV show in which he played the part of the Messiah.
And I guess for many people, especially those in the corporations and media who guard our modern temples, his message would hold enough perverse fascination to be paraded on talk-shows, but be dismissed as trivial or puerile or incomprehensible by the serious people who would in earlier times have served as clerics. He would be discredited by his associations with the culture, especially the sexualised culture, he excoriated.
In essence, however, he would be saying the things that all great teachers have said: that deep within us we are all the same and that the only meaningful things in our lives are love and compassion.
And many would hate him for that simple message – however well told – because it would remind them that, despite thousands of years of progress, nothing had really changed.
I recommend spending 11 mins watching this video.
It seems a few people have misunderstood this post, thinking I wish to suggest that Russell Brand is a new Jesus, despite what they judge to be his personal failings. That was not my purpose at all. I was making what I think is the more interesting point that Jesus and Buddha, by the standards of their own times, might have been a bit like Russell Brand.