By Earl Downing
The question “Was Jesus a hippie pacifist?” may seem to be a thought given to frivolity, but this attempt to self-identify with the Nazarene is pervasive in many different and varying ideologies. What is it exactly which makes us want to identify with him? It seems that Jesus can be whatever we want him to be. Black Jesus? White Jesus? Hipster Jesus? Conservative Jesus? Liberal Jesus? The quandary which lies before us is this; if we make Him what we want Him to be we will diminish the man and his message. Is this what Jesus would want? This need to make Jesus what we want him to be, make him correspond to our way of seeing the world is nothing but self-aggrandizing ego-centrism. Do we want the real Jesus, or shall we remain in Jesus denial?
In order to get an accurate picture we have to be willing to look past the catch phrases and attempt to look beyond our own prejudices. We must put aside the desire to put Jesus in a modern context and try to put him in his own historical/cultural context. Statements like “Jesus was not an American” or “Jesus did not speak English” are very odd. One has to wonder with regard to the motive of these statements because any cultural milieu we place Jesus in, other than his own is most certainly anachronistic.
Why do we evoke Jesus? To what do we own his indelible impression? The expression “No one ever spoke like this man” (John 7:46) is in reference to the fact that Jesus spoke with a unique authority. When rabbis taught they would often quote other rabbis as their authorities. This was not the case with Jesus. Jesus actually spoke with an authority that was based upon his own autonomy, that is, his authority was within himself. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) is a predominant example. Jesus said “You have heard it said..,” “But I say to you….” His listeners knew there was something in his words, and we still know it today, something cries out within us for a mutual correspondence with Him.
A Revolutionary? Jesus was not a revolutionary. He made it quite clear that his kingdom was not of this world, (John 18:36). The disciples were the ones who truly anticipated a revolution. They expected the promised Messiah to set the Hebrews free from Roman captivity. Revolution was not what Jesus was after. Instead, he taught that his purpose was to restore mankind to God, and this would come through his own death and resurrection (John 12:32).
Anti-Wealth? Was Jesus anti-wealth? No. The Bible does not condemn those who are rich. If one were to actually read a Bible cover to cover they would discover that God blessed several of His servants in great abundance. Abraham and Job were all fantastically wealthy, yet they were regarded as righteous servants of God. The parable of the talents is paramount in this (Matthew 25:14-30). The point of the parable was not to condemn anyone who is rich, but rather to not allow riches to become a form of idolatry. Jesus makes it clear that nothing should come between ourselves and our relationship with him.
Anti-Gay? A reading of the Bible indicates that Jesus did regard homosexuality as sin. Jesus defined marriage as between a man and a woman. (Matthew 19:1-8). The way to see what Jesus thought about homosexuality is to understand Jesus’ perspective on the Old Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, until heaven and earth pass away not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18) The Old Testament explicitly states that sex between two men is an abomination (Leviticus 20:13). Since Jesus maintained that the Old Testament was the word of God, he could not believe that homosexuality was not sin and maintain his view of the Old Testament.
The question before us should not be one of secondary issues, but rather the question Jesus would pose to us. “Who do you say that I am”? This is the central issue and our answer to that question will be the standard by which we measure every other question.
As for me, I am in agreement with Thomas – Jesus is my Lord and my God (John 20:28).