Little is known about Willis Wheatley, but a sketch he created has become known around the world. Today there are more than a million prints of this image in circulation and there have been many spin-off renditions.
Wheatley first sketched the image around 1973, while working for the United Church of Canada. It’s original title was, “Christ, Liberator” and was one of a set of four Jesus sketches, the other three of which portrayed Him with more traditional and serious expressions. But it was the image of Jesus laughing which caught world-wide attention, and the image soon became known as “The Laughing Jesus.” In fact the sketch became the subject of significant theological controversy. People, theologians included, had simply never imagined a joy-filled Jesus!
Some folk thought the image was sacrilegious, others said it was at least disrespectful. Many wanted the image removed as offensive!
But isn’t that typical of human response whenever we find Jesus behaving “outside the box” of our expectations?
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day anticipated a Messiah Who would gloriously appear, overthrow all opposing governments and establish His Messianic reign on earth with His chosen people, the Jews. They were not expecting a barn-born baby of a presumed promiscuous teenager, one Who for some thirty years grew up among them and became known as a local carpenter! They did not expect a Messiah Who appeared a victim of Rome, not its vanquisher!
But scripture teaches a Jesus to Whom the children would run… a delightsome Jesus… a Jesus Who taught that joy would bubble up and overflow in His disciples. This Jesus is our great Saviour, Lord, and Example. Do you not know that joy bubbled out of Him? — Let it bubble out from you also. Grow God’s smile a bit broader today.