Every now and then, a question will come from out of nowhere that is so profound one has to stop and think. Such a question was in a post by Paul Raushenbush on the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-raushenbush/shane-claiborne-new-monastics_b_1156525.html) this week: How can you worship a homeless man on a Sunday and evict him on a Monday?
The question was in reference to Jesus, the Christ, whose birth Christians the world over will celebrate this Sunday. The scriptures that will be read, describing the night the child was born in a manger “because there was no room in the inn,” are romantic at best, because they camouflage the fact that even in Jesus’ time, the issue of class was a problem.
Jesus, the Palestinian Jew (despite Newt Gingrich’s claim that the Palestinians are an “invented” people) was not part of the in crowd. His parents were not wealthy, not even close; they did not belong to the upper class. Clearly, that is the case, because had they had money, someone, somewhere would have found room for this very pregnant woman.
Throughout Jesus’ life, he posed a problem for the powers that be. Scholars including James Cone, William R. Herzog and the Paulo Freire and Obery Hendricks have suggested that Jesus’ life and ministry was all the more dangerous and difficult for him because he was part of the oppressed class, and spoke against oppression in what some would call “subversive speech.”
We Christians are too far removed from the Palestine and Roman Empire of Jesus’ day; we have a need to believe in the myth of Jesus as opposed to his hard message. We forget that Jesus saw the elitist class of Jerusalem collaborate with the Roman government, something that resulted in more oppression for “the least of these.”
Jesus, in Matthew 25, was not an observer, looking into the lives of the oppressed; he was an insider, looking out, and not liking what he saw.
Freire said that understanding Jesus’ life that way, we understand that the parables were not “earthly stories with heavenly meanings,” but rather they were earthy stories with heavy meanings.” William Herzog, in his book, Parables as Subversive Speech,” said that Jesus was aware of the exploitation of the masses that went on, and he challenged it. Herzog said that the “parable was a form of social analysis, every bit as much as it was a form of theological reflection.”
We Christians do not want that, though. It seems that we cannot fathom the idea that Jesus was not mild and meek, but was instead a rabble rouser, every bit as irritating and annoying to some as is Michael Moore or the late Rev Dr. Martin Luther King. The thought that Jesus might indeed be in the midst of an Occupy tent camp repulses those of us who hold onto myth.
The truth is that we tend to deify people once they are gone. Jesus was hated when he was alive; once he died, he became a hero. The week of his death, according to the Bible, was one in which this schizophrenic type of belief was obvious; on a Thursday, they hailed him as a hero, but a couple of days later, egged on by the religious elitists, they urged the government to crucify him.
That biblical reality notwithstanding even in hero status, the message and mission of Jesus as a social revolutionary is a message that the hero-makers want to, frankly, subvert, recast, and ignore. We are not unlike the Maundy Thursday crowd, praising Jesus (for our own selfish purposes) one moment, but then rejecting him three days later.
He was not rich enough, not “right” enough, not “connected” enough, to be worth caring about deeply. The upper class cares for its own but Jesus just did not belong to them.
We Christians may not all be upper class, but we have issues and beliefs which we hold onto, and frankly, this notion of Jesus as a revolutionary, one who challenged the status quo, just does not work for us.
In essence, we are still capable of worshipping him, a homeless man, on a Sunday …and evicting him on a Monday.
A candid …and painful …observation.
Jesus the Homeless Hero © 2011 Candid Observations