Picture this guy, with long hair, a beard, a robe, a rope belt and sandals on, who just came to Jerusalem, his first trip for the Passover. Lo and behold, he walks into the Temple of Herod and upends all the tables of the money changers. “Usurers, get out of here, you turned this place into a den or robbers!” What an entrance! What a mouth! What heads turn!
“Who is this guy,” one money changer says to another. “Who knows! I heard someone say he thinks he’s the King of the Israelites.” “No,” the other says, “he must be nuts.” “Nuts or very ambitious. How can we get something on him?” “Somebody should turn him into the Romans.” “Hey, not a bad idea.” And someone says, “What’s his name?” And somebody answers, “Jesus, no less, you know short for ‘Yahweh,’ and Christ, the ‘anointed one,’ the Messiah.” “Wow, this guy’s got big ones!” “Yeah, he’s going places. Where, I’m not sure.”
Meanwhile, this Jesus of Nazareth climbs from his first dissident step to the height of his ministry, attracting huge crowds, thousands around Galilee and Perea (Israel and Jordan in modern day parlance). He speaks in parables, like the Prodigal Son and the Sower. He’s talking unconditional self-sacrifice and God-like love for God and all people. In his sermons he preaches service, humility, forgiveness of sin, faith, turning the other cheek, even loving your enemies as well as friends, and following the spirit as well as the letter of the law. He’s goes on, it is said, to have raised a fellow named Lazarus from the dead. The guy’s radical, out there, making waves in a dead sea.
He says that the end of the world will come without notice, and then he’ll return to judge the world, basically according to how they treated the vulnerable. Imagine that. He warned his followers for this reason to be alert and faithful. He also taught repentance was mandatory to escape hell, and promised eternal life to those who believed in him.
On top of that, he goes on to hang out with outcasts like the Imperial tax collectors. They’re despised for extorting money, including his buddy, Matthew. And the Pharisees are angry with Jesus for befriending sinners rather than righteous folks. But Jesus says, “it was the sick who needed a physician, not the healthy.” Makes sense. And this Jesus also values people usually regarded as inferior: women, the poor, ethnic outsiders, children, prostitutes, the sick, and prisoners, name it. Imagine that. He’s up for the down and out.
What’s more this is a guy, they say, who was born from a virgin by a miracle of the Holy Spirit, although he has a human father, Joseph. The angel Gabriel visited Mary and told her she was to bear the son of God. I don’t know who writes this guy’s story, but it works on some metaphorical level. This Jesus is said to be born between 7 and 2 BCE, during the reign of Herod the Great. This Jesus followed the ministry of John the Baptist. He was baptized late in his 30-some years or so on earth in the Jordan River. He led his own ministry, preaching, healing in Galilee, and actually, they say, performed miracles of healing, feeding the hungry.
The rabble-rouser of his time?
“Come ye after me, and I will make you fishers of men . . . Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth . . . Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall have their fill . . . Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called he children of God . . . Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for their theirs is the kingdom of heaven . . . You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden by men.” There’s more . . .
“And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than they whole body be cast into hell . . .
But I do say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you . . . Take heed that you do not your justice before men, to be seen by the others: otherwise you shall not have a reward of your Father who is in heaven . . . But when thou dost alms, let not thy left hand know what they right hand doth.”
There are four books of one-liners like this that just turn you around. They’re called Gospels and make up the New Testament, an add-on to the old bible — all about this guy Jesus.
The Gospels say Jesus as Messiah “came to give life as a ransom for many” and “preach the good news of the kingdom of God.” This is about a guy who grew up in a little town, Nazareth in Galilee and was a carpenter, not even union. He made a journey to Egypt with his family as a baby to escape Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents, and a short trip to Tyre and Sidon, but that’s it. The Gospels say most of his life was spent in ancient Israel. Yet Jesus traces his line back to David, King of the Jews, and back further to Abraham. Is this a troublemaker, a boa-rocker, a dissident? For this crowd, he’s a mighty handful.
Arrest, trial, and death
First of all, Jesus must have had an inkling of the ruckus he was raising. On his third trip to Jerusalem, he celebrated Passover with his friends the disciples. This turned out to be The Last Supper for him. In fact, he predicted it. And said one of his buddies would betray him and he’d be executed. So what does he do? He takes the bread in one hand, the wine in the other hand and says, “this is my body which is given for you and this cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood.” And he instructs them to “do this remembrance for me.” After supper, Jesus and his guys go out to pray in Gethsemane Garden. No wonder.
Right there Roman soldiers show up and arrest him on orders of the Sanhedrin. You know, the money changer thing, the speeches, the crowds, the philosophizing, the “son of God” thing, bringing people back from the dead, it all added up. And it turns out the apostle Judas Iscariot fingered Jesus to the guards by giving him a kiss. Nasty. Simon Peter, another apostle, went at the high priest’s servant with a sword, cutting off his ear, which Luke says, Jesus healed immediately — a miracle. Jesus got angry at Simon and said, “all they that take the sword shall perish by the sword.” Another great line. Then, after his arrest, the apostles all took off to hide.
Meanwhile, during the Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus, the priests and elders asked him, “Are you the Son of God?” And he replied, “You are right in saying I am.” And there it was. They condemned him for blasphemy. Blasphemy? Who’s not the son or daughter of God? Nevertheless, they turned him over to the head Roman, the procurator Pontius Pilate. He had to nail Jesus for “sedition for claiming to be the King of the Jews.” Look, it’s not like the guy killed anyone, or stole anything. It’s a bit of an overreaction. But who knows, these folks took their religion pretty, pretty seriously, I think.
Yet even Pilate felt Jesus wasn’t guilty of any crime and maybe his was a bit of a kangaroo court. In fact, he wanted to free Jesus. I mean, he was the Roman governor. He offered up instead an “insurrectionist,” you know like an “insurgent” named Barabbas. But no. The crowd chose to have Barabbas the troublemaker go free, and Jesus crucified. It’s amazing how much trouble you can get into trying to make people see things a different way, even if it’s love thy enemy, turn the other cheek, live by the sword/die by the sword, and so on, stuff that makes sense, maybe a new kind of sense but sense. In fact, Pilate, who reigned between 26 and 36 CE, literally washed his hands of the whole thing.
Nevertheless, up on the cross Jesus goes, nailed to it by the centurions, not a pretty picture. Meanwhile, as he dies from 12 to 3 in the afternoon, the sky darkens over Calvary or Golgotha like it was a sign. A well-heeled Judean, Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin got Pilate’s permission to take Jesus’ body and place it in a tomb where it was buried. But Jesus had also told them, he was coming back, this time in three days, and would appear to them. And sure enough, in three days he is spotted and converses with his friends. It’s another miracle, maybe like life itself that keeps coming back each spring after it dies.
And 20 centuries later, on October 9, 1967, in the jungles of Bolivia, you look at Che Guevara, age 37, the dissident, the revolutionary, and you see his dead body looking so much like Jesus — his head propped up by his killers, the long hair, the beard, the closed eyes, and you wonder. This was another guy who gave all for the poor, the vulnerable, the underclass. He went in to fight in the wilds with a small crew, poorly armed, with the NSA tapping his radio messages and the CIA financing the op. Che didn’t have a chance. In spite of that, being a doctor, he was actually healing the casualties of his enemies. And in spite of the danger he knew he was facing, there he was, dead, shot in the legs to bleed him, not in the face to make it look like an ugly battle casualty, assassination.
But was he dead? Do people like this really die or do they have a way reappearing, coming back, of being iconic, one after the other, JFK, RFK, MLK, Malcolm, John Lennon, Abbie Hoffman, Gandhi and so on, their faces, their lives lingering in minds and hearts forever. Sons of god or even of just men and women come back to bring a decent life on earth to the meek. Was there some light in these people that just shined. And wasn’t their dissidence, going against the tide of established thinking, really a holy act, at least one of great love, to bring the freedom of new truth, new life, new possibilities to their fellow human beings? And who profited from blowing that light out? Think about it. Class is out for today.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer, life-long resident of New York City. His book State Of Shock – Poems from 9/11 on is available at www.jerrymazza.com, Amazon.comand Barnesandnoble.com. He has also written hundreds of articles on American and world politics as an Associate Editor of Online Journal.