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Monday, May 30, 2011

No Serene Nazarene

Today I read the first 147 pages of an interesting book, The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted by Obery Hendricks, Jr.  I admit I have too often accepted at face value the world Jesus was born into picturing it too blithely as in the Christmas favorite: “Silent night, holy night!/All is calm, all is bright…/Sleep in heavenly peace/Sleep in heavenly peace.”  Assuming that “Your kingdom come/Your will be done/On earth as it is in heaven” was already a fully accomplished fact that required no further faith or effort.  The book pointed out several stark facts about the world Jesus was born into:  The Romans were ruthless in “keeping the peace” in one instance in a town a half-day’s journey from where Jesus lived as a child crucifying 2,000 insurgents; the psychological impact of oppression was evident in various physical and mental disorders; poverty was everywhere; crimes such as banditry were widespread; taxation was oppressive and entirely unrewarding for the taxed; there was widespread indebtedness with literal enslavement a common result; the religious institutions in Jerusalem had become under the protection and influence of the Roman authorities and the religious elite were a privileged class with exceptionally high income and property holdings; 95% of the country was poor so that “give us this day our daily bread” was an earnest prayer; the people from the country—the Galileans—were looked down on with prejudice by city folk who disparaged their accent, manner of livelihood, and poverty; Jesus (unlike Paul) was not a Roman citizen and so did not have resort to this appeal should he run into conflict with authorities.  With all this and much more to consider, the high profile ministry of Jesus had serious political implications on all fronts.  His movement was seen as quite distinct from the establishment and the status quo until several factors intervened—in a somewhat small way by some of the teachings of Paul, and in a much greater way in the partially successful attempt by Constantine to co-opt the Christian religion in 312 AD and thereafter make it hierarchical rank and status centered rather than as it had been in the past a hierarchy of roles and function with all followers being equal servants under God.

When the reading is done I will report on Part Two which explores “seven of Jesus’ discourses and deeds as political strategies.”

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