(Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
Before Jesus got converted into a white evangelical Republican, he was a child of Judaism, working for social justice.
(No justice. No peace.)
He was hardly original. Not even in death. The Romans crucified thousands of Jewish young men. Crucifixion was a deterrent to terrorism.
(We have other methods.)
Jesus wasn’t the first Jewish reformer. Others advocated what Jesus advocated. Others were inclusive. The holy (wholesome) way is hardly a secret. It’s shouted from every mountain top and in every religion.
LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
The Roman Empire wanted world peace (and would kill anyone who got in the way). Everybody wants world peace—except the military industrial congressional university research complex slurping at the trough.
(War may be easier to stop than greed.)
By the first century certain beleaguered Jews under the heel of Rome were sick and tired of a certain so-called Son-of-God-Prince-of-Peace-Savior-of-the-World, and, yes, born-of-a-virgin emperor (Augustus).
Evangelists (messengers) were spreading a gospel (evangel) to the empire’s subjects: Give your loyalty (and taxes) to Caesar, and all will be well. You will be safe. No threat will come near you. The borders will be secure.
(Lies. Lots of lies.)
In Jesus, some saw a different kind of power, a different way toward peace—a deep truth resurrected, incarnated, made flesh. Feed the hungry, heal the sick, love enemies, drop grudges, welcome everybody to the table.
(In that kingdom, love, not fear, would rule.)
And thus, “Jesus” was raptured into human imagination—transfigured into an icon of compassion, a counter to greed and revenge. I will love my enemies even if it kills me.
A handful of subversives created an alternative gospel—a different Son of God, Prince of Peace, Savior of the World, and, why not, born of a virgin, too—to counter the empire’s myth.
It was an existential choice: Caesar OR Christ. (At least until the empire co-opted Christ.)
This spring I’m teaching a class at Shepherd University: Jesus Before Christianity. (Hint, hint: He was Jewish.)
Jesus was a Jew, I once told a Catholic friend.
No way!! How could that be?!
It could be—and was—because his mother was Jewish.
Well, then, she must have been a Catholic Jew!
No. She. Wasn’t. And I should know. I’m an expert on these matters.
Still, I’m teaching a class and trying to save Jesus from my former tribe, American evangelicals, and their new emperor.
See Paula’s new photograph on the home page. Wandering in Her Footprints