Jesus, The Neurotypical?
Have you seen The Chosen?! Lately, this is one of the first questions that I get asked when I disclose to people that I am on the Autism Spectrum. I suppose there are worse things I could get asked, and in the past, it has been worse. Yes, I have seen the show and greatly enjoyed many aspects. It's a refreshing and humanizing take on Jesus and his followers. But that is not what people mean when they ask if I have seen the show. They are asking if I know about the disciple Matthew.
The once tax collector, Matthew, is depicted as an autistic man struggling to find his place in the world. He then finds it in Jesus' loving call to follow him. The show's intention behind this is noble, to present a picture of autistic inclusion in the body of Christ and make autistic people feel seen. In a famous scene, Jesus asks Matthew to help him write the sermon on the mount. He values Matthew's input, even to the point of arranging his critical arguments based on Matthew's insight. Many people on the spectrum and their families have praised the show for these efforts. I could not be happier for folks whom this has blessed. It's a beautiful scene, yet I cannot overlook something critical.
When I watch the show, having a disciple who is autistic is only half the story. Even though Matthew is included in the fold, Jesus is still depicted as a neurotypical. Whether or not anyone in the Bible is on the spectrum is genuinely unknown. We do a lot of work to fill in the blanks, and how we fill in those blanks can say more about us than we think. But Jesus, the picture of the man who encompasses all of humanity and is fully God, is the most likable and socially flawless person on this show. Even in that scene on the mountain, he teases Matthew saying, "not everyone is like you."
We worship a man who was rejected by his hometown and the city of whom he is the rightful king- a man who calls the crowds to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Are we sure this Jesus was likable in the way we expect people to be? If The Chosen is making the impact that it is, what might this say about us and this depiction of a likable Jesus compared to a man who was rejected by his home? Are we making a neurotypical and likable God in our own image, and if so, what would be the consequences to those leaders we choose to lead our communities and churches?
If God has come to be human in the person of Jesus, then somehow all of humanity and its complexities can be found in Jesus. This is a great mystery, but it is the good news of the gospel for people of all ethnicities, cultures, genders, and, yes neurotypes. Living into all these realities gets messy for their own distinct reasons. To live in the neurodiverse reality of Christ's body, we need to hold our social norms loosely, and we need to think critically about mistaking likeability as Christ's likeness. Neurodiversity could be an untapped gift to the church to make us the dynamic community the Holy Spirit intended. Will we accept this gift?