As the debate about racism rages on in post-Ferguson America , I’ve been wondering about Jesus and how we would think of his actions today. Two thousands years of distance is enough detergent to sanitize and justify his actions to the point that they are no longer controversial. No longer is Jesus a revolutionary but is a supporter of our current way of life, worldview, and systems. In other words, he looks like us, whoever ‘us’ might be. The stories of Jesus are are now simply stories, accepted folklore stripped of the embroiled relationship to the status quo brought about by the Galilean we call Jesus. But, I wonder if we would have responded to his actions with the same level of acceptance we have for them now. Truth be told, the actions of Jesus were controversial. He subverted, revolutionized, and upended so many of the religious and societal norms of the day. Which makes me wonder, would our response to Jesus look the same as our response to those protesting in Ferguson? Or any protesting of a minority group? Or any protesting that took on forms we disapprove of?
I ask that, because I can imagine this conversation today.
“I’m sorry, but actions have consequences. That doesn’t mean I agree with what happened, but the authorities were just doing their job when they arrested him. Did they go too far executing him? Maybe. But bottom line, he broke the law.”
The two men had been talking for quite some time about the events of the past week. Early in the week a man caused quite a disturbance in the outer temple. Some eyewitnesses described the scene as “chaos” and “bedlam,” and the man as “unhinged,” “maniacal,” and “irrational.” Throwing tables, yelling at people, talking as if he had some special relationship with God made it clear to many that this was a man who had lost touch with reality. Some eye witnesses even said he made a whip. Accounts differ on whether or not he actually hit people with it, or even if it could inflict serious wounds (one witness said it wasn’t stiff enough to bruise a fig), but no one denied he had a self-fashioned whip in hand. Later in the week he was arrested. Mobs formed and called for his death. The trial was a debacle. The whole thing was severely mismanaged as both religious and political authorities handed him off to the other hoping someone else would deal with him. In the end, the pressure from the crowds got to the leaders and they executed him.
Even after his death people were still divided about whether or not justice had been served. Some maintained the man was innocent, he simply stood up against an unjust system that, in the end, murdered him, thus proving just how unjust it was. Others were quick to point out the violence done by the man’s own hands and the complete disregard he seemingly held for authority as a means to justify the actions of the authorities.
“It boggles my mind that people would think that somehow the authorities are at fault here. People don’t just get arrested without a reason. Besides, he built a whip and destroyed personal property. He flipped tables, destroyed booths, let livestock go but someone he is innocent? Stop. You know who was innocent in all this? All those who lost a day or more’s sales in the temple. My friend Joseph said his brother’s table was beyond repair.”
“Your friend Joseph only cares about this because he sells his pigeon’s through his brother. I trust him like I trust a tax collector. I bet his table was already broken.”
“That doesn’t matter. This Jesus guy is a thug. A low-life Galilean criminal with no regard for authority. They say he hangs out with these twelve roughnecks – fisherman, tax collectors, zealots and the lot. I hear he even spends time with Samaritans. And then people wonder why he gets in trouble with authorities? If you are going to hang around with shady people like Samaritans don’t play the victim card when you get arrested.”
“On top of that, people think he is innocent! Have you heard those who say he is innocent? They say that his rampage was justified. Some made up problem they called ‘systemic injustice’ in the way temple sacrifices are handled. As if going to temple and buying the best animals for God is some sort of injustice. The only injustice I see is against the merchants who are just trying to make a living.”
“Don’t forget the injustice against the authorities! I’m no fan of the Romans. I understand they can be a bit brutal and abuse their power, but they do keep the peace. And what do they get for it? One of the thugs in this guy’s gang gets his ear chopped off! And people wonder why he got arrested. I’m sorry, but he deserved getting arrested.”
“What people are failing to see is that there are consequences to one’s actions. That’s what people these days don’t understand. What do they think? That someone can just start vandalizing the temple and not be punished? I don’t care if there are injustices or not. We are a civil society built on laws and if you aren’t going to act outside of those laws, injustices or not, you are going to have to deal with the authorities.”
“I heard his father died when he was young. If only his father had been around, this probably would have never happened. His father would have known how to discipline this right out of him.”
“For the life of me I cannot figure out why these people need to resort to violence. Feeling like some injustice is being done doesn’t mean you get to destroy property and cause a scene. You need to be civil. Bring it up with those in authority. Plead your case respectfully. Don’t start flipping tables and chasing people with a whip. What good does that ever do?!”
“Well, whatever the case, the guy is a nut job. Supposedly he thinks he is the messiah. Talk about false notions of grandeur. He’s a carpenter’s son. That’s it. I’m sorry you were born to a poor family, but that doesn’t entitle you to making life miserable for everyone else. Put your nose down, work hard, obey the law, and be a good citizen. It’s what we are all doing. Thinking you are somehow different than the rest of us is proof of his delusion. You don’t think the system is fair? Well, neither do I! But you don’t see me flipping tables. At some point you have to face reality and realize that your choices make the world you experience. You don’t like how things are, then make difference choices. Don’t blame someone else and then flip tables and scare people to death with a weapon. Make better choices!”
I realize there are differences between the protestors and Jesus. You don’t have to take time to point those out to me. Nor, am I trying to draw a parallel between Mike Brown and Jesus. The point I am making is that the arguments used to discredit the protestors could be said of Jesus. Those of us identifying as Christians would do well to be honest about the fact that Jesus’ actions done today would make us uncomfortable. It doesn’t matter if it is the cleansing of the temple, the forgiveness of the woman caught in adultery, or constant rebuke of those who are good at being good. Jesus makes us uncomfortable as he challenges the status quo of the world that grants some of us privilege.
That is exactly what those who are raising concerns about race are doing. Sure, you can find exceptions to every rule, but by and large, the protests are trying to promote a conversation that has long been thought over. No one wants to talk about race. Some wish we could ignore it. Others wish we could ignore it but, because it directly affects them, can’t. And when those who can no longer ignore the injustices being done against them and their brothers and sisters, they flip tables. After the tables are flipped we are faced with two choices. One, we can condemn them like the men above by demanding they play by the rules of the system we belong to. Or two, we can listen. The only reason the actions of Jesus in temple seem justified to us is because we have chosen to listen to him about the injustice that existed in that system.
It is time to see that the tables are being tossed about. Which means it’s time to listen.
Maybe, if we take time to listen to our brothers and sisters who are protesting we will begin to hear them as justified.