A socialist and a helluva guy
Editor’s note: This column was originally published in 2010.
I grew up in an Episcopal church, and on the ceiling was a ginormous fresco of God as an old man with lots of flowing white hair, a white man, needless to say, but I will anyway. Spaced around the nave were paintings of the stations of the cross featuring a matching Jesus, with flowing brown hair under his crown of thorns.
In all the stories I heard in Sunday school and elsewhere, Jesus invariably came off as a simpering, masochistic wuss. I thought I knew what turning the other cheek would do for me. He got points for throwing the moneychangers out of the temple, but moneychangers may have been chickenshit back then, and in situations like that if you weren’t there you don’t know.
Why a guy who could heal the sick, feed the multitudes, and walk on water wouldn’t save himself from an agonizing death eluded me. So he was a crazy wuss. I suppose knowing what he knew made him seem to act crazy anyway, especially since he wouldn’t quit talking about it.
I considered the possibility that he was mythical, that he was simply a literary character cobbled together from various hoary stories. I read what I could find, and I still think it’s anybody’s guess. The Jesus story is similar to those of several other mythological figures and may well have been appropriated. I don’t care.
What I care about are his messages, namely love one another, including your enemies, and share what you have and live and let live and treat people well and kindly, and anyone can find the spirit and kingdom within. Anybody. Jesus was clearly a socialist.
Those few guidelines sum up Jesus for me, and I say that knowing full well that nobody wrote down anything about him until he was dead and long gone. Not to mention that all of the people who did write about him had their own expectations gleaned from whatever they had heard from other people, who probably had never even seen Jesus of Nazareth much less talked to him. And they wrote in Aramaic, which way later was translated into Greek (as in “It’s Greek to me!”), and then into Latin, for Pete’s sake, and eventually into flowery and now-archaic English. And hip-deep in agendas and egos the whole time.
After all that, I still feel confident in saying that Jesus was a helluva man, ideally or historically, take your pick, and one of the best things about him is that he wasn’t a Christian. Anybody who supports killing and says he gets Jesus is a liar. And you know he and Mary Magdalene had a thang.