“Jesus the Revolutionary,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
For many people, if not most, Jesus is seen as the apostle of love for the world, the model of the charitable and loving individual. He is seen as caring and loving all. In this essay, however, I would like to take a look at Jesus as revolutionary, at his hard and demanding moral statements and rules.
In a previous essay, I presented Jesus as the ultimate litigator for the poor, underclass, and the outcasts of society. I said in that essay that Jesus pointed to a world without class or race division, or even sex division, and presented the view that Jesus was the litigator for the world’s poverty-stricken and the underclass. I noted in that essay that Jesus was a working man, a carpenter, and walked about with a group of workingmen, including several fisherman and a tax collector, and was criticized for associating with persons who might been seen as the dregs of society. Jesus clearly did not have great affinity for those of wealth and power; he stated the poor were blessed; he approached Jerusalem on a donkey; he was tried and labeled as a criminal; and his followers were seen as sinners.
I would now like to examine whether Jesus is not only to be seen as the advocate for the poor and underclass, but in his actions and sayings, can be seen as a revolutionary. In Matthew 5:43, Jesus urges us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. There can be no more radical and demanding moral rule stated here. It is so easy to love the beautiful, those who are good to us and our family members. What Jesus lays down here is of incredible difficulty and a demand beyond most of us. In Matthew 9:10, Jesus sits and socializes with tax collectors and sinners and is criticized for it. Again, an action in complete defiance for what the world expects of us to be well dressed with the better people. Jesus says no and that his concern is not for the righteous but for sinners.
Let me look at some more sayings. In Matt 10:39, Jesus again challenges us all with the statement that he who finds his life will lose it and he who loses his life for his sake will find it. In Matt 19:21, Jesus advises the rich Young Man to give up all his goods if he would be perfect. The young man goes off sorrowing since he cannot do this. Another impossible demand. In Mark 10, Jesus advises that there is no one who has not left their family mother, father, brother, and sisters who will not receive much more. This demand to leave the family for Christ is another request and rule most if not all of us cannot fulfill. In Mark 10, Jesus says we must be a servant and slave to others, another demand turning the world upside down. In Luke 6, Jesus advises his listeners to turn the other cheek when one is stricken and when someone takes away the cloak not to withhold the shirt and to give to everyone who begs of them, a revolutionary demand. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus astutely tells and advises that our neighbor he commands us to love may be a social outcast.
Let us review and consider a few more of these sayings and moral rules beyond our human ability to fulfill and present another Jesus rather than what the popular culture tells us. In Matthew 5, Jesus says and raises the moral bar beyond most of us that the commandment not to kill is akin to anger and the person shall be liable to judgment in this respect. Jesus then says in this chapter that one who looks at a woman with lust has committed adultery in his heart. Jesus then says that one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. These are such radical and revolutionary sayings.
Is Jesus making impossible demands and making our lives too difficult to live and at the same time making it too hard for us? Is this love and the love of God? In Matt 7, Jesus tells us to make no judgments. Since most of us are constantly doing this to everyone, we meet a disturbing command, contrary to our human nature.
These are some few of the commands of Jesus the revolutionary, raising the moral bar beyond the capacities of most of us. What can one conclude from the sayings? We are presented with a somewhat radical if not revolutionary Jesus. He certainly challenges the establishment, denying wealth or class of any particular value. He runs with the wrong crowd. He says the poor are blessed and in fact superior to the wealthy in the eyes of God. He says he has not come to bring peace but a sword and will divide family members. Perhaps what Jesus means here is that the gospel, if taken up, will divide and disturb since Jesus knows better than most of us that there will be persecution and opposition to him and his message. For the first 400 years, Christianity was the subject and object of constant persecution as it is today in some parts of the world such as China and the Middle East.
In fact, there has been group of persons in the Church who have embraced what they call “Liberation Theology” and have seen Jesus in a Marxist context. In Nicaragua, some priests took up this position. These priests sought to address societal abuses where the rich have control over the very poor. Of course, I am not endorsing Marxism as a Christian alternative since classical Marxism is essentially materialism but I do say Liberation Theology was something of a response to the call of Christ for the poor and poverty-stricken.
My conclusion here is that Jesus makes these apparently impossible moral and ethical demands, saying anger is murder and lust is adultery to inform us of the root of these wrongs that anger leads to murder and lust to adultery. He is also informing us that it is only with his grace, help and love that we can fulfill these commands. Finally, in all these commands and events and narratives, Jesus first tells us to transform our broken souls and natures and to be transformed into his image in our lives and also tells us to go about to modify and transform society from its present structure in favor of the rich and powerful, having dominance and control. He in some way asks us to join him not only in our own personal reformation, but in the reformation and change of the present inequitable society and system. He bids to be remade and reborn in his image and to go into the world and improve the present state of confusion if not outright wickedness.
In these sayings and events in the gospels, Jesus calls upon us to follow him, thereby being enabled to reach the moral and ethical level he asks of us and to cooperate and build the better Christian society insofar as it is possible to do so.
This essay is taken in some part from chapter 34 entitled “Jesus the Revolutionary” from the book “Essays on Faith, Culture, Politics and Philosophy,” published by the University Press of America, 2016.