Would He wear a pinky ring, would He drive a fancy car
Would His wife wear furs and diamonds, would His dressing room have a star?
If He came back tomorrow, there’s something I’d like to know
Would Jesus wear a Rolex on his television show?
These questions were asked in a song by Chet Atkins and Margaret Archer that Ray Stevens made into a hit back in 1987, and they are newly relevant after word comes that someone in the office of the Patriarch of Moscow, top prelate in the Russian Orthodox Church, doctored a photo of Patriarch Kirill to airbrush out the $30,000 Breguet watch the prelate was wearing at the time. (The doctored photo has been removed from the Church’s website and the original version is here.)The airbrushing was detected by Russian bloggers who saw the reflection of the missing timepiece in the polished wood of the Patriarch’s desk.Statements by the Church expressed great anger at the person who airbrushed the photo, reports the BBC:
In a statement the Patriarch’s press service said “we reject on principle any use of photo editing software to alter the appearance of images.“There will be a thorough investigation to determine why in this instance there was a crude violation of our internal ethical code. The guilty ones will be punished severely,” it said.
So the answer to Ray Stevens’ question appears to be that, in Russian Orthodox practice, no, Jesus would not wear a Rolex on his television show. Rolexes are too cheap, too flashy, too Donald Trump. Jesus has much better taste than to wear what the poor rubes think is a luxury watch. He would wear something the average person has never heard of that costs twice as much.And if He did wear such a watch, He wouldn’t lie about it, or rather would at least feign anger when He found out that His PR staff had done so.In fairness to Patriarch Kirill, there is a long tradition in the Church by which powerful ecclesiastical leaders have worn rich jewels and lived in palaces as (at least partly) a way of reminding lay rulers about the Church’s power and influence. It is certainly true that the rulers of Russia today have more respect for people wearing expensive watches than for miserable pensioners and the rest of the rabble.After the oppression, persecution, and penetration of the Church by the Communist Party, Russian prelates can be excused for wanting to assert the power of the Church even as they try to carve out a place for the Orthodox Church in a changing Russia. And there are many cases through history of prelates who moved through the world of courts and ceremony with rich clothing and jewels but who slept in monastic cells and wore hair shirts next to their skin.For all I know about it, Patriarch Kirill could very well be one of these. Only God knows the heart, and it is not for a lay blogger to judge the actions of the head of a religious group to which I do not have the honor to belong.But the incident should remind us all that the relationship between the religion of Jesus and the power structure of any country should always be an uncomfortable one. Christianity points beyond the limits of any political order toward an absolute standard of righteousness and love. Measured against that, we all fall short and all of our institutions fail.This week in particular is a time to remember that at the culminating moment of Jesus’ life, the religious leadership and the political leadership united to bring him down. He died naked and alone outside the city in a place of shame: the representatives of power and law mocked and tortured Him before they had Him killed.No Christian can be too comfortable with the powerful and the status quo. No Christian can forget that our real place remains outside the walls with the weak, the poor, the forgotten and the excluded. One hopes that Patriarch Kirill is alive to the importance of this truth; one hopes even more not to forget it or fail it oneself.