jesus: fanatic or bourgeois?
Recently I had the pleasure of being referred to as a fanatic. In a negative way. By another Christian.
From a pulpit.
Luckily I (ironically) took it as a complement.
The comment was made by a young pastor in reference to my quasi-activism (I can’t really refer to myself as an activist, it would do a great disservice to those who really do go out life and limb in their activism for causes they believe in.)
This experience got me thinking about the Jesus-es that people follow. For example, which Jesus does this young pastor follow? And indeed, which Jesus do I follow?
Now of course there is only one Jesus. But how do we know if we are following him, or a twisted conception of him?
In the episode described above I had a brief chance to confront my friend and accuser with the fact that I truly believe Jesus was and is a fanatic.
Indeed, I truly believe Jesus was an extremist. Not an extremist of hate, however, but an extremist of love, peace, justice and goodness.
Think about it. Jesus confronted and protested against the corrupt powers of his day through subversion of their laws, social order and economic system, which in effect was a direct subversion of their claims to and hold on power.
He redefined Jewish laws around issues of food and Sabbath to free the poor and marginalised from the systemic grip of an exploitative aristocracy and political leaders.
He encouraged people to forego paying Roman tribute (tax) to protest against Caesar’s divine claims. He also encouraged rich people to redistribute their wealth.
He physically protested and disrupted operations in the Temple, the central institution of Palestinian Jewish life for religion, politics and economics (sounds like many modern protests…).
He called his disciples to a radical form of nonviolent resistance to violent powers, even to the point of promising that some would die (it’s a wonder anyone followed him at all).
He was even executed by crucifixion, the punishment reserved solely for insurrectionists and political rebels (ever heard of Spartacus?) He even told his disciples to take up their crosses, an unmistakeable call to civil disobedience and self-sacrifice in the face of unjust rulers.
The list could go on. Each of these claims may well need clarification for those who may not have heard such events being interpreted in these ways. Unfortunately I do not have space right now (happy to discuss them via comments or email).
Needless to say that since I perceive Jesus in this very gritty, historical, radical, revolutionary way I am becoming more like him every day (or so I hope, I am aware of my shoddiness). I guess it is inevitable I be called a fanatic, or any of the other tags that have been levelled against me by fellow Christians.
I can’t be sure but I would guess, judging on the temperature of much modern preaching, that the Jesus of many Western Christians (a generalisation, I know) is more like a bourgeois – reasonably rich, submissive to powers, conservative, capitalist; a champion of the status quo.
In other words, like them.
I once saw Jesus this way too. But a journey of reconsidering Jesus in his first century Palestinian world led me to shift my perspective of him – from moderate teacher of esoteric truth to radical prophet-king of the kingdom of God.
It is no surprise that those who see Jesus as a bourgeois might call people who see Jesus similar to the way I do “fanatics”. The problem for people like my friend, at least as I see it, is that the Jesus of the Gospels could not be further from a bourgeois conservative, inasmuch as conservatives by definition seek to uphold the current order of things.
As I have claimed many times on this blog, Jesus came not to leave the world the same, but to turn it upside down (see this post, for one example)! Jesus was not a bourgeois, nor did he seek to support the current kingdoms of his world and ours – he came to bring such kingdoms to an end through the coming of his kingdom of justice/righteousness, “enough” for all (daily bread) and economic equity (forgiveness of debts). For this kingdom he gladly faced the cross, and called us to do the same.
Jesus, my friends, was a fanatic. Let us be conformed to his image.
P.S. As we think and discuss these claims, let us meet each other recognising that though we may come to different conclusions, this issue is of no peripheral importance for Christians – the identity of Jesus is central to everything we believe and do!