It annoys me when modern people, usually atheist modern people, talk about Jesus. Take this commentary from a book I recently read called Nickle and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. The book is about the author’s foray into the minimum wage world in month-long stints (you can read my review of the book here). During one of these episodes, she makes a visit to a local church and describes the service this way:
The preaching goes on, interrupted with dutiful “amens.” It would be nice if someone would read this sad-eyed crowd the Sermon on the Mount, accompanied by a rousing commentary on income inequality and the need for a hike in the minimum wage. But Jesus makes his appearance here only as a corpse; the living man, the wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist, is never once mentioned, nor anything he ever had to say.
Never mind the bad economics of raising the minimum wage; Jesus Christ was a “wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist”? It’s as if Ms. Ehrenreich and others like her (I have heard these types of descriptions many times before but, sadly, have not collected them all. I’d love to hear some of the doosies that you’ve heard in the comments) think that Jesus was the original hippie, that he just sat around all day getting high, talking about free love, and sticking it to “the man.” It makes me wonder if any of these people have ever read the New Testament.
It is true that Christ said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you,” (John 14:27)and it is true that hippies talk about peace a lot, but Jesus also said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I am not come to send peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). Clearly, Jesus was talking about something more complicated than the hippie ideal of peace and love.
And what about Jesus being a socialist? Besides the absurdity of ascribing a political ideology to someone centuries before that ideology existed, (I also don’t think that Jesus was a capitalist, or any other kind of -ist) can Jesus’ words and actions be fit into what we know as socialist ideology today? True, he did tell at least one rich guy to “sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven” (Luke 18:22). That sounds kind of socialist, but if you consider who he is talking to and what he is actually saying, you realize that it isn’t socialist at all.
First, he is talking to an individual. Christ was more concerned with individual morality than he was with “social justice.” In fact, there is evidence that this council was specific for that individual and not even all rich people. Christ dined in the home of Levi, a publican (they were rich), and there is no record of him saying anything like what he said to the other rich guy (see Luke 5:27-32), and when Judas suggested that the pound of ointment that Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet should be sold and the money given to the poor, Jesus said, “The poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always” (John 12: 8). Clearly, Christ’s admonishment is individual and not universal.
Second, what exactly is he saying to this individual? He is saying that that individual should give away his money and riches to the poor. A socialist wouldn’t bother with that. A socialist would not be talking to one rich man with only authority over his own possessions. A socialist would be talking to the political leaders, to King Herod, to Pilate, to someone with some authority. And a socialist wouldn’t tell these people to give away all of their money. A socialist would tell these people to take away the other rich people’s money and give it to the poor. Christ, though, was not interested in politics or political power. Have you noticed how little time he spent trying to get the attention of the governing bodies of his day? Did Christ ever try to gain an audience with the Sanhedrin, the Jewish governing body? King Herod? Pilate? He was dragged to them, but he didn’t seek an audience with them. And one of the only things he said to one of these political leaders was that his kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18:36).
Jesus was not a hippie.
He was not a political activist. He was not “wine-guzzling vagrant.”
He was and is the Son of God. You can’t hope to understand Jesus without accepting that, and there is no better time to accept it than Easter, when we celebrate the event that made his life meaningful for all of humanity.
It is this time when we celebrate his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when the people welcomed their true king with shouts of, “Hosanna.” We celebrate his infinite Atonement, when he suffered for the world’s sins, and gave life meaning for all of us. And we celebrate his victory over death in his glorious resurrection.
We only have two options when confronting Christ and his teachings. Accepting him as the Son of God and his teachings as the word of God, or dismiss him and them as mad. To quote C.S. Lewis, “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him, and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Mere Christianity , 52).
Jesus Christ was more than a man. He was more than anything we could ever imagine to categorize him. Which is why our pathetic attempts to ascribe our shallow, human social categorizations to him will always fail.
Note: The misspellings of the name “Pilate,” misspelled in the original post as “Pilot,” was corrected on April 25 at 1:45 Eastern Time.