Carry On My Wayward Son: The True Legacy of Jesus
What Happened to the Kingdom of Paupers?
Something I have been thinking of lately, which has troubled me in the past as well, is this question concerning Jesus’ legacy. It occurred to me the other day that Jesus was an illegitimate son. He was born to a young, unwed mother who was betrothed to a man who was obviously not the father. He came into this world in the lowest way possible, even by the standards of our own society. In the same way, he continued his entire life to champion the cause of the people of low birth, low station or status, the downtrodden, the weak, the oppressed, the poor, and so forth. Yet, as I look around at today’s church, I see there has been a major effort not only to “legitimize” Jesus, but to even downplay the truth of where he actually came from, who he actually was, and for what purpose he came to this Earth.
It seems there has been a concentrated effort to create a “rich” Jesus or at the very least a comfortable “middle class” Jesus, one that is in the image of the man of today’s society, but not one that is fitting with actual fact or history. It is the same way the Renaissance painters of religious portraits would paint Jesus as Indo-European, pale-complexioned, and white, even sometimes wearing the fashionable raiment of their own day. I remember a Sunday School discussion in my teenage years which turned into a bit of an argument amongst the group regarding the idea of a “black” Jesus and whether such a depiction could be seen as sacrilegious. It was the first time I’d ever truly thought about what Jesus might actually have looked like in reality and was surprised at how easily I had, up to that point, just accepted the white version of him in my mind. After some study in college, I finally came to the conclusion that he was most definitely closer to being a dark-skinned man than a light-skinned one simply for the geographical location of his upbringing and existence. It made sense to me that he would have looked more like a Middle Eastern man than a European one since he was of Middle Eastern descent. It was an interesting moment in my spiritual growth, however, because it was the first time I truly questioned the religious information that was being spoon-fed to me in my naivety and youth. As it turned out, that discovery in my youth would only be the first of many historical discrepancies I would begin to uncover in the religious dogma I was inundated with throughout my youth, and it would only be the first in a series of questions I would have during my personal spiritual journey.
In many Christian circles there has been a real push to “legitimize” Jesus. It is disgraceful to talk of him as an illegitimate son…unless, of course, it is done in that falsely pious tone of put-on humility that is used by many of these same “Christians” (I use that term loosely when describing such people I have observed because they do not, in my opinion, exhibit the character of Christ whatsoever) to manipulate the feelings of others into quiet submission or monetary giving. If Jesus were physically present in this world today, I believe he would not only have some extremely harsh words for these hypocrites, but he would also be doing his very best to restore his kingdom to his true heirs—the truly meek, the truly mild, the paupers and peasants, the widows and orphans, all those who don’t have a voice.
It amazes me how blind those Christians steeped in religion actually are. It amazes me that they could read the same Bible I am reading and not see the true nature of Jesus. He does NOT wear a Rolex. He does NOT take an expensive vacation each year. He does NOT exploit the poor, the oppressed, the hurting, the downtrodden, the weak, the nameless, or the faceless. He does NOT try to make a good name for himself. He was humiliated in the worst way possible. He was shamed and disgraced. He spent his entire life defending those who could not defend themselves or those who had no one else on their side but him. He was an illegitimate son, adopted by a good man, raised in a humble way through a hardworking family.
He didn’t care what other people, especially those in positions of authority, thought of him. He did what he knew his Father in heaven was calling him to do and what he felt was right, regardless of the great opposition he garnered from the leaders of the church during his time, even if that meant breaking their religious laws (i.e. performing healings on the Sabbath). He traveled from town to town, helping others, healing others, and spreading the message of hope, love, and peace instead of following the world’s standards of what he should do to be a productive member of society. He gave his very life for those who had no say, no leg to stand on, and through his illegitimacy, an entire world of illegitimate children, drunks, whores, thieves, and everyone in between was legitimized.
He is first and foremost a God to the poor (whether it be economic or spiritual; one must first recognize that we are all in some way poor, then take the time and have the humility to figure out what his or her poverty is). This is why Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24) It is not about wealth, but perceived wealth—where a person believes their riches come from. Matthew 5:3 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I have seen many, many examples of these “rich” people. They walk around as though they have amassed their wealth on their own and through their own “hard” work, as though they have earned their place in and thus respect from the rest of the world, living in the illusion that they have gained anything apart from God’s provision and grace in their lives. Well, I have news for them.
Respect is earned by respecting other people
If we choose not to respect other people’s lives, decisions, space, viewpoints, religions, preferences, etc, then we are in no way “deserving” of respect ourselves—no matter how hard we think we worked for it. This is basic truth, besides the fact that the behavior I have witnessed—the backbiting, the one-upping, the air of superiority, the hypocrisy—is obviously NOT love. As 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 states, “If I speak in the tonguesof men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,but have not love, I gain nothing.” The last part of this verse is especially poignant to me because I have seen so many of these same Christians spend the majority of their time “helping” people in some sort of civic capacity, yet obviously lack that basic love in their hearts for others. They are blind to the fact that they do not have the character of Christ. Instead, they walk around truly believing they have a right to their air of superiority because they profess a belief in Jesus—there couldn’t possibly be a greater irony.
Am I the only one who sees this? What happened to the kingdom of paupers? When did we don robes and steal the throne of the true king? We are all traitors to him in our hearts each time we do this, each time we forget his “illegitimacy” and our own poverty.
Religion vs. Faith
Two men came through the checkout line at Walmart the other day, both talking loudly about who they felt was the “best” pastor to have ever preached. Neither one of them acknowledged the cashier’s presence in a human way or treated me with any regard. In fact, both ignored us and continued on excitedly with their conversation regarding religion. While this behavior of placing religious ideals over human relationship among Christians has always deeply bothered me, it also made me think more that day about why I feel so troubled by it.
Having been a studious Christian for several years and having read the Bible scrutinously all throughout my life, I have come to the conclusion that the purpose of human existence is simply to be in relationship with one another. Not just any relationship, but harmonious, peaceful, fruitful, and nurturing relationships. We do not exist really apart from our interactions with one another. It is exactly those moments of shared face time which define not only our lives, but our very characters. True, there is also the relationship to the self which is important, but the core of that self we develop is experienced from the very first moment of our lives through relationship with other beings who should ideally nurture, teach, and grow us into the individuals we perceive ourselves to be in our solitary moments.
The evidence to support this theory is plain throughout the Bible from the beginning. God created man to be in relationship with Him. They walked in the garden in the cool of the evening together. God created woman to be in relationship to man when He saw that it was “not good for man to be alone.” The ten commandments of Moses’ fame also reveal the importance of right relationship between humans. Every commandment is rooted in relationship—whether to forbid a transgression between man and God or between man and his fellow human. The rules are not for the sake of rules. The rules are all for the purpose of cultivating healthy, peaceful, harmonious human relationships. And throughout the Bible, into the New Testament especially, this major theme is constant.
It was Jesus’ major complaint against the leaders of the church as well. The Pharisees and Sadducees were lawmongers. They loved the law, but they did not love God or their fellow man. They followed rules for the sake of rules, hurting humans and destroying relationships in the process. Jesus even made it a point to break the rules (i.e. healing on the Sabbath) on a regular basis to put the focus back on humanity and its treatment of one another. Some rules, He pointed out, were okay to follow, such as paying taxes (give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s) because He saw those rules had a good purpose overall and did not harm relationships between human beings. Other rules, however, He completely disobeyed because they put the importance of the law above the welfare of man.
I don’t believe my interpretation of this idea is original. I’m sure other scholars have thought of this before. What amazes me though is how over 2000 years later we have still yet to get this very clear and simple principle. I have encountered so many “religious” people who do this very thing—put the love of the law over the value of the human being. They may truly love the Word of God, they may truly even feel they love the Lord, but they are completely blind to the fact that they are not expressing that love in a real or concrete way to those around them…which is the point.
The ultimate goal of Christianity is to LOVE
We are striving to become perfect, not in ourselves, but in our love and the way we administer it into this world on a daily basis. Yet, oftentimes, I think we get so focused on the idea of “sin” and avoidance of sin and following rules for the sake of rules that we forget that it is about personal growth, relationship, and love. I realize this is an age old argument though. These same leaders and so-called religious teachers were around in Jesus’ day as well. They crucified Him for speaking against them and having the courage to radically love people, going against their comfort zones and love of the law. Jesus loved the unlovable. He touched lepers (I once had a psychology professor who said he believed homosexuals are the modern-day lepers in religious circles. I believe this to be true.)
Jesus healed those who had been written off with no hope of healing. He brought honor to those who had once been shamed, restored the purity and beauty of those who had once been degraded. He did not judge. He simply loved. And the spirit convicted the individual who was changed from within by the interaction he or she had with Jesus. Jesus didn’t change people. He didn’t force people to change. He spoke truth into their lives and handled them with the utmost care. He made people feel their humanity in a real way. This is what it means to be a Christian, a little Christ. I don’t personally believe that those who love religion more than God can actually call themselves Christians. By definition of the word, they are not living up to it. They are not bearing the fruit we are called to bear—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control which all serve to make better relations between humans. Instead, they are lovers of the law and destructive in their rigidity and need to have everyone conform to their own ideals.
I say love people first and see what happens. People don’t change people. God changes people. Loving a human being truly, the way that makes them come alive, will soften the ground in their hearts and make it ready for the Holy Spirit’s workings in it. Any sin that grows like weeds there will be plucked out at that time and the evidence will be in how that person begins to bear the spiritual fruits you’ve shared with them in their own lives and eventually how they cultivate that fruit in the lives of others around them as well.
Jesus as Rebel and Cultural Iconoclast
Throughout his ministry, Jesus kept every commandment of God perfectly, but broke many of the manmade laws of the religious leadership of that time. He healed sick women on the Sabbath, kept company with irreputable people such as prostitutes, lepers, and the poor, and preached a radical message of forgiveness, tolerance, and love.
When I was a young person, going into my teenage years, I began running around with a rough crowd. They were only friends by proximity and circumstance given that I lived in poverty surrounded by what could be called lower class people. Not everyone in that neighborhood was a troubled kid, but most of them were from broken homes and backgrounds of generational poverty. I remember these boys and girls I hung out with drinking, smoking, having sex, having babies too young, dabbling in drugs, dropping out of school, stealing, and ending up in jail. They all thought they were being rebels, but the truth is they were just conforming to the pattern of the world that had already been carved out for them by their parents. People expected them to be bad. And they lived up to those expectations.
I, on the other hand, was a true rebel. I saw the world as it was around me, and I refused to accept it. I thought surely there was more to life than what I had seen thus far. I searched for meaning and purpose, for a better path. I was ridiculed at worst and teased at best my entire life by the people around me for being “good.” I had a bad reputation at times in school merely for the company I kept. Those on the outside looking in whispered about me when they saw me with “that” girl or guy in the hallway. The people I kept company with knew me differently. I was the only one among them NOT participating in those “rebellious” behaviors. I read books. I went home early to do my homework. I cared about my grades. I participated in extracurricular activities. I wasn’t quite accepted, but I wasn’t completely rejected either. In truth, I didn’t fit in anywhere. I followed my own path. I followed Jesus’ example in that.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
We are meant to question and challenge the status quo, the way things are versus the way things should be. Whenever we encounter complacency, inequality, a lack of compassion, or indifference in the world, we are to question it, not accept it.
There is one rule I follow whenever judging the righteousness or goodness of my actions or that of others in relationship to one another, and that is this—the simple truth of the following scripture, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8). Anyone who exhibits a manner of hatred or intolerance to another human being for whatever reason is not and cannot be of God. Therefore, anyone who commits violence either in deed or in spirit to their fellow human being claiming the authority of God is a liar and a friend only to the darkness. The Bible is straightforward about what the nature of God is and what the true quality of God’s people will be, which is LOVE. For far too long in this world there has been the lie perpetuated against God that His name could ever be synonymous with HATE. This simply can never be and is untrue. God has brought me into this world to remind people of the truth Jesus so clearly spelled out in his sacrifice on the cross those many years ago. Anyone who claims to follow God and also hates any of his fellow human beings for any reason is a liar and not a true follower. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9)
The Widow’s Offering
Mark 12: 41-44
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
© 2013 maramerce