Thursday, 28 March 2013

Jesus: the revolutionary

Jesus was crucified because his teachings were both anti-establishment and revolutionary in an era of social unrest. 

Easter eggs by Reinhard Kirchner
by Sam Driver

The image of Jesus driving the money changers - or as he called them, 'theives' - out of the temple is one of the most enduring scenes of justice in the entire western tradition. Jesus objected to public life in Jerusalem being dominated by financial traders, a feeling that perhaps many Christians and non-Christians alike living through an international recession can relate to today and while Jesus evicting the money changers may have been his most astonishingly physical condemnation of the materialism of his era, the fact is it was not an isolated incident.

For example, the Samaritans were descended from the poorer northern tribes of Israel and were hated by the southern tribes of Jerusalem from whom Jesus came, for complex historical reasons. However, Jesus was willing to shock his audience by challenging the prejudice against Samaritans in the story he told now known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In doing so, Jesus openly defended some of the poorest tribes in Israel.

However, Jesus' social activism wasn't merely about surfing the tide of popular feeling. When Zaachaeus, a corrupt tax collector, repaid those he had cheated fourfold, he received Jesus’s forgiveness and Jesus ate with him, even as the crowd complained: "He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner". A more well-known example of Jesus refusing to bow to public pressure is recorded in the gospel of John. A group of ‘scribes and Pharisees’ brought a woman who had committed adultery to Jesus and told him she ought to be stoned. Jesus’s response is often quoted: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Jesus' willingness to court public ire is recorded in the Bible to have caused some of his followers to desert him and even a week after crowds had cheered his entrance to Jerusalem with cries of ‘Hosanna’, or 'saviour', crowds cried ‘crucify him’ when the Roman governor of Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate, offered to free him.

And this is Jesus’s enduring appeal: in stark contrast to many of the self-proclaimed saviours of his time who claimed to offer freedom from Roman rule, (as well in contrast to many more self-proclaimed saviours who have come in the political world in more recent times) Jesus cared more for truth than for popular appeal. This legacy has been emulated through Christian history from Martin Luther to William Wilberforce and even today is at the core of Christian faith. For Christians it may have been an inherently spiritual revolution, but there is no doubt Jesus was a revolutionary. As he himself said: "I did not come to bring peace but a sword." @SamDriver5

Sam will be participating in an inter-faith debate on the status of Jesus (God, man or prophet?) this Easter Sunday. Join us as we resolve the 2,000 year controversy. 

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