Holy Henry and the “real” Jesus

This article was published in the St.Catharines Standard.

Religion is a lot about who is “in” and who is “out”, who “belongs” and who doesn’t. We have “catholic” and “protestant”, “saved” and “unsaved”. Some talk about people who have accepted or rejected Jesus, which causes me to wonder; which Jesus has been “accepted” and which one has been “rejected”?

There are a lot of Jesuses, his story has been told in so many ways. What does the real Jesus look like? Can we know?

While in Finland last week, I discovered the story of a Roman Catholic saint, Holy Henry, Bishop of Finland, allegedly murdered with an axe in 1156 AD. That’s long ago, and I imagine the reader asking “what does this have to do with today?” Hang on; we will get there in a moment.

Though not officially canonized, Henry is venerated as a saint by numerous dioceses and has been referred to as a saint by Catholic writers since the 13th century. Henry’s list of miracles includes a claim that his finger was found intact months after his death, the murderer [more about him in a moment] losing his scalp when he put the Bishop’s hat on his head in jest, while a clergyman who mocked the bishop got a severe stomach ache. 

I think we get the idea, don’t mess with bishop, dead or alive.

Allegedly the English-born Henry was Bishop of Sweden, when he and the Swedish King Erik, another saint, set out to Christianize the “blind and evil heathen people of Finland”. After they had conquered Finland, baptized the people and built churches, Henry remained and continued his mission to expel paganism.

Different churches have fought over Henry’s relics with conflicting claims, ranging from his remains being lost in the ocean on a 16th century journey from Finland to St. Petersburg, Russia to the relics remaining in safe hands at a modern-day Finnish cathedral. 

LalliIt is Lalli, Henry’s axe-wielding murderer, who intrigues me. The story goes that the bishop, following the customs of the day, came to Lalli’s house in the middle of winter and took food for himself and hay for his horse, without permission or recompense. When the hot-tempered Lalli found out from his wife what had happened, he became enraged, grabbed his skis and pursued the thief until he chased him down on the ice of a nearby lake and killed him on the spot. Not surprisingly, Lalli rejected the Christ of Henry and became an outlaw.

It is hard to separate fact from fiction in 12th century stories. However, one fact in undisputed; clergy and nobility at the time were free to go to farms and take what they wanted without pay, a practice that was outlawed some fifty years later. Maybe pagan Lalli had a reason to be upset.

Supposing the legend is true, I’m not suggesting that the bishop’s thievery justified murder, but it did make me think about this issue of “rejecting’ Christ. Which Jesus Christ did Lalli reject?

Now fast forward to today. When Christians talk about people rejecting Jesus, we should ask, which Jesus did they reject; the taker, or the giver?

There are plenty of people, who grew up in church, were committed Christians, but later on they rejected the church and the Christ it presented. Others at one point “accepted Christ”, maybe by saying a “sinner’s prayer”, but have since walked away because they no longer believe in the God they hear about in church. Still others have been exposed to outright hypocrisy, abuse and beatings in the name of Christ. When they walked away, did they reject Christ?

If so, which Christ?

Could it be that some have rejected a “Christ”, which Jesus Christ would have rejected?

Whether we talk about Lalli or ill-advised Henry from long ago, or a friend across the street, the questions begs for an answer; who is the real Jesus?

If the question intrigues you, here is a possible starting point. Get a Bible and read Jesus’ sermon to the religious elite, as recorded in the gospel of Luke chapter 15. You may be amazed at what you discover.

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