Christians concerned with preserving the gospel have resisted the moral fandom that Jesus attracts. To admire Jesus’ compassion or gentleness without submitting to him as Master and Redeemer, the argument goes, is to miss the point of his message entirely. This is true, and because it is true, we place great emphasis on the work of Jesus–his death and resurrection for sinners–since these make up the core elements of the good news we proclaim (see Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8).
Such caution to preserve the gospel, however, should never rob of us the singular joy of meditating on the moral beauty of Jesus. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” John wrote, “and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The beloved disciple was overwhelmed not only by what the incarnate Word accomplished for us during Holy Week but also by who he was. “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). Indeed, like any enthusiast, John could not keep his experience of this fullness to himself. His first recorded letter brims with the light, love, and life that he encountered in Jesus and he shared this with others “so that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:4).
This has great import for how we nurture gratitude during our preparation for Holy Week, namely, because our contemplative reflection on Jesus himself enriches the soil where gratitude can grow. When we, like the apostle John, pause to ponder the glory of God’s unique, eternal Son, it necessarily affects us. We realize that we walk on the same terrain as One who perfectly displayed grace toward screw-ups and spoke truth to the presumptuous. He engaged the rich with no eye to their wealth, prostitutes with no eye to their bodies, the powerful with no eye to their positions, and the poor with no eye to their stigma. His only angle was love, the glorious self-giving he eternally shares with his Father and spilled out into the lives of the undeserving.
The deepest gratitude such considerations develop is the realization that Jesus transforms those who trust him–slowly and surely, in fits and starts–into morally beautiful bearers of God’s image. Because of his aforementioned work that we vigilantly defend, our bent to use and consume others can be crucified and evidences of resurrection life can blossom through normal acts of kindness and sacrifice. Even this change comes through our ongoing meditation upon Jesus, as “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
During these weeks in which we remember Jesus moving toward Golgotha’s cross, may his Spirit work in us a deep-seated thankfulness for the love and fidelity that kept his feet stepping forward. And may the same Spirit work the same love and fidelity in our lives the longer we gaze upon our beautiful Savior.