March 30, 2018
I come from an Indian Orthodox Christian family. A church and community that traces it’s heritage back to the disciple, St. Thomas, who arrived in India in 52 A.D. I’ve spent years as an altar assistant, Sunday School and Vacation Bible School student, and then, teacher. Though I was brought up to see Jesus from a theological perspective, I’ve grown to learn about the socio-cultural-historical context in which he lived. I never had a WWJD wristband but tried to live every day with those words etched in my mind. I wasn’t spiritually moved by the songs or rituals in church, but rather, by the man who stood up for those higher principles of peace and justice for all.
If Jesus lived today, we’d persecute him again.
The story of Jesus is one of the oldest stories of resistance and rebellion against a society built upon extreme wealth inequality and all power held in the hands of a morbidly rich and corrupt minority. Jesus was a radical in his ministry and teachings. He entered Jerusalem on a donkey, went in to the temple and “casted out all them that sold and bought in the temple, overthrew the tables of the money-changers and the seats of them that sold doves,” those exploiting the poor, saying “My house shall be called a house of prayer: but ye make it a den of thieves.”
Just like the money changers in the temple, today, the ruling class have established a rigged economy to keep the riches flowing their way at the expense of the rest of us. Just like the occupying Roman Empire, the use of military grade violence is used with extreme prejudice in silencing any uprising of the impoverished many.
Jesus became a champion of the people, with his message of love, empathy, and a society based upon mutual respect and dignity. He was a welcoming teacher whose nurturing values form the foundation of guaranteeing healthcare, housing, nutrition, employment, and habitable environment as essential personal freedoms. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, educated people for free, he called out the hypocrisy of those in authority, exemplified the socially vilified in the parable of the Good Samaritan, hung out with every day working people, and made the unworthy his family. His allegiance is pretty clear in the famous Beatitudes which kick off with the lines “Blessed are the poor, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, those persecuted for righteousness sake…”
Say what you will to the veracity of the history and words. There is something powerful to say about the human being who maintained his values of love, compassion, and forgiveness even when the masses chose to release Barabbas (prisoner who committed murder) over him for execution, and even when his disciplines/closest friends denied and betrayed him.
Today, instead of just asking “What Would Jesus Do” in a personal context, we should ask ourselves how Jesus would deconstruct the issues and challenges we face right now, in a world we share with so many others, as he did.
Would Jesus rail against our corporate culture of individualism that values selfishness and personal gain above shared prosperity and service to our neighbors? Would Jesus rail against the fact that 82% of all wealth in 2017 went to the top 1%? Would Jesus rail against politicians who proclaim to serve God while promoting policies to keep people oppressed and poor? Would Jesus rail against gun manufacturers, big pharma and health insurance conglomerates as they do anything to preserve their profits even if it means thousands of people will die? Would Jesus rail against the military industrial complex as it drops bombs on countries we will never visit, on children no different from our own? Would Jesus rail against anti-immigration sentiments which keep families separated and deny asylum for refugees not different from himself at one time? Would Jesus stand up for Muslims and proclaim “hate has no home here?” Would Jesus proclaim addiction is not criminal? Would Jesus speak out against the school to prison pipeline, the fact that the wealthiest nation in the world has the largest incarceration rate because it’s lucrative for a few? Jesus was an idealist and used religion to imagine a new world as it was the dominate institution at the time. Today, politics, in a far more interconnected globalized world, forces us all to be political, and it’s hard to imagine Jesus not calling out politicians as he proclaimed “woe to the Scribes and Pharisees.” Jesus, without a doubt, would be a threat to the establishment.
If Jesus lived today, we’d persecute and crucify him again. As we have done to Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Meena Keshwar Kamal, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Dorothy Stang, and many others who walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil.
At this crucial moment in world history, we witness fascism rise by no accident than the neoliberal trickle-down economic policies devised by the wealthy few that convinced the masses that it’s the darker skinned people taking their resources, or the problem is some other religion, or some other minorities, or simply it’s just the way markets work. We witness our government manufacturing consent for World War III instead of working to transition together toward the Third Industrial Revolution. We witness the climate crisis reaching (if not already at) a catastrophic point of no return, while the greedy few hold hostage the future of all life on the only planet we can call home at the moment.
The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. I have guarded hope for our future. So far in my life, there are few I’ve met who place truth over convenience and do good deeds for the simple reason that it is the right thing to do. In a world adding hating by the minute, the best among us must be armed with compassion, stand with integrity, be patient and persistent with those who do not perceive the urgency of the times, be a voice to the voiceless, and fight with love. No change has ever come easy. There is no greater meaning or purpose in life, than to serve others.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” – Matthew 7:13-14