Jesus has been kidnapped. His captors are dressing him as a CEO, in pinstriped suits and Italian leather shoes, using him to ‘inspire’ the poor. Others, reacting in anger to this gussied-up Jesus, have no idea what he really looks like and have decided they hate him. If you see Jesus on the loose, he’s a short Middle-Eastern guy with a long beard. He’ll be the wild-eyed guy preaching about the corruption of wealth. Please, if you should happen to come across him, just let him go.
Seriously, what the hell has happened to Jesus? A few weeks ago in Texas, Rick Perry and some Christians called a prayer meeting for their state and our nation. The United States is apparently on the wrong track, and these folks decided we need to ask God to bring it back. So what did they do? They rented a stadium, dressed up in expensive suits and prayed that God would save the country from the Democrats. Then, a few days ago, Rick Perry was asked about Dr. King’s civil rights work, the furnace for which was Christian churches. In response, Perry proudly proclaimed that America ought to be about freedom. “Freedom from over-taxation, over-regulation…” He took a question about civil rights in the U.S. and shifted it to ultra-conservative tax policy. Stay classy, governor.
But Perry isn’t the only one who is holding Jesus against his will. Every Sunday, mega-preachers gather in mega-churches and get paid mega-salaries to tell people that if they just pray hard enough and give some cash, Jesus will bless them with untold wealth and physical healing. This is something Jesus evidently did not have the power to do for himself, as, to quote Jesus, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” That’s what happens to revolutionaries. They end up homeless and hijacked.
The reaction to Jesus by progressives is just as sad. Often, liberals are angry at the Jesus created by conservatives, so they berate him and declare themselves free of superstition. But that’s like writing Harry Potter a hate letter. The pinstripe Jesus is not real! The Jesus some liberals dislike is, in large part, a creation of fiscal and social conservatives whose position has more to do with culture than faith. Instead of railing against a make-believe Jesus, we liberals ought to take a look at the Gospel of Luke.
I’ve been using Luke 6 in my meditation time this week, and wow, did Jesus have it in for wealthy folks. “Woe to you who are full now,” he says, “for you will be hungry… Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” The Jesus Seminar scholars translate ‘woe’ as ‘damn you.’ Yikes.
Remember that Jesus lived in a politically dangerous time. He was on what he probably began to see was going to be the losing side of the fight for Jewish independence from Rome. So he began talking about the Kingdom of God, this state of wholeness (like Shalom in a way) which is “inside you,” but is also a future hope for a better state of affairs in the world. Those who are rich and in charge now? Damn them, Jesus said. It’s the poor who are closest to realizing the kingdom of God, because they know what’s really important.
Now THAT Jesus has a message for our time. The homeless Palestinian peasant and martyr Jesus reminds us over and over again that being rich shouldn’t be our goal. Shalom, the Commonwealth of God, that’s the objective. What would Luke’s Jesus say to a nation which has declared that the ‘American Dream’ is to accumulate enough wealth to rent a stadium for a meeting during which a prayer about tax policy is offered? I think he’d say it’s time for a come-to-Jesus meeting.