Saturday, May 19, 2012

Jesus and his Death

I intend over the few weeks to post some studies I have written for my Church here in Hong Kong.  They are about our image of Jesus and how we can discover the Real Jesus.  They particularly focus on the significance of the crucifixion, hence the title: Jesus and his Death.

1. The Popular Jesus

Jesus as a person is quite popular in popular culture. In fact, it has become quite fashionable for someone in the public eye to say that while they have problems with the Church, they have great respect for Jesus. Further questioning, however, reveals it is a certain image of Jesus that they have respect for. This image has certain facets:

1. Inclusive: Jesus is hailed as someone who welcomed all regardless of social class and background, gender, or lifestyle.

2. Peace-loving: Jesus is seen as a prophet who taught the importance of love and peace and rejected the use of force and violence.

3. Radical: Jesus is presented as one who challenges corrupt authority and obedience to tradition.

What is dismissed either explicitly or implicitly by those holding this sort of image of Jesus is any suggestion that Jesus was anything other then human. The belief in the divinity of Jesus is seen as an invention of the Church not having any connection with the historical Jesus.

This popular image of Jesus has become so pervasive that it has also been taken up in varying degrees by people in the Church. Not all would want to go the whole way and reject Jesus' divinity altogether, but it receives considerably less emphasis than once in did. The emphasis now is on Jesus as one of us.

Jesus is thus able to take his place as one of the good guys: a candidate for a first century version of the Nobel Peace Prize or, at least, its first century equivalent. His death on the Cross is explained as that of a martyr prepared to die for what he believed to be true.

The only question is why anyone would want to kill him in the first place if this is what he was really like!

Now I can see why someone resembling this popular image might upset or irritate people. (In this form, he certainly rather irritates me if I am honest.) It might even be possible to imagine a crowd being so upset with him on occasion that it turned on him, as, indeed, happened at Nazareth, though quite why they should be quite so upset is more difficult to explain.

What, however, is impossible to explain is why, if Jesus was like the popular image of him, they should determinedly plan and plot to have him killed. And it would take some planning and plotting as the Jewish authorities did not have the power to order capital punishment, that power lay with the Roman authority, and the Romans for all their faults tended not to have people killed for preaching love and peace. They saved such punishments for those who preached hate and war: hate and war, that is, against Roman rulers and rule.

The problem with many presentations of Jesus, both inside and outside the Church, is that the death of Christ becomes a complete mystery. Unless our presentation of Jesus presents someone who otherwise good religious people would hate and explains how they could get Rome to crucify him, then the chances are that we are not presenting the Real Jesus.

It also suggests that the Jesus we are following and worshipping is not the Real Jesus either. In other words, the Jesus we follow and worship must not simply be one who was crucified, but one who was crucifiable!

No comments: