Sunday, November 27, 2011

WWJD? Occupy!

My friend had given me the floor and it was my chance to explain (within a reasonable amount of time) what I think is the essential meaning of the life of Christ, and the force underlying Christianity. As usual, what I always think of as something that is very clear in my mind got very muddy when I tried to share it with someone else.

On this particular day, I was hung up on the question, "So tell me again how Christ dying adds up to redemption for everyone else??"

A couple of days later, I picked up a copy of a recent book by Paul Johnson - an author I love on account of his wonderful explanations of the way the world changed in the years 1815 to 1830 in "The Birth of the Modern". The new book is "Jesus: A Biography from a Believer". I saw it and thought, "Johnson's pretty good; let's see what light he can shed on this topic . . . .




With my recent discussions in mind, I decided to dip right into the chapter near the end, "Jesus's Trial and Crucifixion." As usual, Johnson took facts that we all know -- or think we know -- and put a rather fine point on them. In describing how Jesus was viewed by the authorities like the high priest Caiaphas in Jerusalem, Johnson writes:

A Jewish popular preacher whom he [Caiaphas] did not control was a threat to his authority, and if his teaching turned out to be revolutionary, there could be a tumult, for which he would be blamed. As Jesus's fame spread, and the number of people he could attract increased, so the threat appeared to grow. News that he had persuaded more than five thousand people to ascend a mountain and hear him preach there, and then by a "miracle" fed them heartily with fishes and loaves, filled the ruling priests with terror. What if he did this in a city? Could he not then take it over by force? What if he did it in Jerusalem itself? Then he could occupy it, proclaim himself another King David, and become priest-king. The Romans would then pull out, except from the Antonia fortress, return with reinforcements from Syria in massive strength, take the city, massacre all its Jewish inhabitants, including and especially the priests, and raze it to the ground. (Jesus: A Biography from a Believer, p. 180-1)

This passage helped me get a concrete fix on what Jesus found himself in the middle of. The last thing this fellow who was saying "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and render unto God what is God's" wanted was to have a power confrontation with worldly authority -- he was seeking a much more global conversation. And yet he had to admit to himself that he was sure starting to look like a threat to temporal power.

And so he found himself praying in the garden: "Can't I just walk away from this? Save this confrontation for another day? Why not just slip out of Jerusalem? Do I really have to step up to the plate?"

With hindsight it is so easy to propose that coming into Jerusalem was somehow qualitatively different -- a "different" type of activity, something that Jesus could have re-defined for himself as off limits, "too political." But are those lines really so easy to draw, especially in the moment? Are those lines really real at all?

What I have come to understand is that the answer -- "Yes, you really have to step up to the plate!" -- was part and parcel of the larger meaning of Christ's life: "Yes, you really are part of this human mix and it always comes with death at the end and along the way you are just going to be crossing the line every day and never really knowing whether this is the day when 'you've gone too far' ...."

So I understand how Christ ended up on the cross: not by crossing the line one time too many, but by the fundamental decision to say "yes" to living and crossing the line every day.

Johnson describes Jesus as having a "unique combination of authority and gentleness." This simple description helped me envision a person who was crossing the line -- threatening the status quo -- with every move he made. Not taking the place by storm; just riding in on a donkey, in communion with the ordinary people and their palm "banners."

Faced with chorus of voices saying, "Isn't it time for you to tone it down? Can't you be more reasonable? What is it you want, anyway?" Jesus kept right on doing what he was doing. And that was a sign to us about how to live our lives, a reminder that our lives are not "lived" as a single block whose perfection can be sought in the impossible hope of not dying, but rather in the crossing of those lines moment by moment by moment . . . .

Does that reminder constitute "redemption"? It does for me

What would Jesus do? Occupy . . . !


cf. also Alan Minsky, Would Jesus Occupy?


Related posts

Think back on everything that has happened in the last year. Is it time for things to quiet down? To have a "nice" spring? To sit back and be entertained by the usual presidential campaign circus?

(See Occupy Palm Sunday in 2016)




I've been thinking about the Occupy movement and what it has to do with Christian witness. The conclusion I've come to is: a lot! In fact, I think it's central to our understanding of what Christ's life and death meant.

(See Occupy Palm Sunday! )





Like a full-service prophet, Ron often has to be his own interpreter and explain to people what the expression "fly in the ointment" means! However, when he shows them his sign, with the big gross fly on it, they intuitively understand the role of social critic in making people uncomfortable and pointing up the need for change. And they understand that the role is not
always welcomed.

(See Flies in the Ointment and Plumb Lines for Israel)










In gratitude to John Kass, and in keeping with what I perceive to be our shared desire to place our faith "in the world" and share the good news (while at the same time not turning people off with too much Jesus talk) -- in short, keeping my tough guy cred intact -- I herewith share some scenes from my Holy Week 2014.

(See Holy Week 2014 in Chicago - Making a Spectacle of Ourselves )