Who is Jesus Christ? The facts are he was born Yeshua ben Yosef – a simple man from a simple town. Born at a time without the powerful worldwide reach of the media’s sophisticated communications technology and yet he is by far the most famous person who ever lived. That in itself is an extraordinary achievement, and somewhat of a miracle in itself. How does someone get remembered that long and his following just grow and grow into every country and backwater place in the world? And this was initially flamed by just word of mouth from those who knew him and had witnessed his tragic fate.
From all accounts he was a devout Jew, a Rabbi even, and was praised for his spiritual knowledge and the great power of his sermons. He connected with the wisest men of the day, with simple folk, and with those the world shunned – the lepers, cripples, deformed, the deaf, the paupers and the blind. He treated all with the same respect. For he saw past their afflictions and addressed their souls. He also acknowledged women as equals much to the annoyance of his own apostles. His non-judgmental attitude also stretched to the Romans, which led to criticism amongst his own race. We are told that he saw inherent good in us all no matter our race or how far we had strayed into darkness. That belief was his most powerful statement and no doubt why he remains so relevant. It would also be the cause of his shockingly brutal and barbaric death.
Perhaps he still lives because more than two thousand years later, most of us are still grappling with his radical concept of loving everyone, including those who have wronged and seek to damage us.
And therein lies another truth of fact. Jesus was a political and social rebel at a time when such things could get you either banished or killed. That’s why he told parables, child-like fiction stories, that symbolised what he was really trying to tell us. Interestingly, we seem to be headed back to those dim dark ages where you have to adhere to the accepted politically correct opinion of the day. Not sure Jesus would last too long in the modern world either which, sadly, shows just how little we have really progressed as human beings.
Another fact. Mary Magdalene was not a whore. She was married to Jesus and no doubt had children with him. No rabbi was allowed to speak in a temple unless he was married and had children. Jesus spoke in several temples and addressed those in attendance. So why did the early Christians decide to reduce Mary Magdalene to a good hearted whore who needed Jesus to save her? They were men carrying the residue of old doctrines and still too threatened to give women too much power in their new religion. Many wise men throughout history have seen through this rewriting of the truth according to Jesus. Michelangelo for one, who risked his life mischievously painting Mary at The Last Supper seated next to her husband Jesus. Either that or a very feminine looking man in drag, so I’ll go with it being Mary. The unspoken truth is also in Michelangelo’s sculpture “The Pity” which depicts the dead body of Jesus cradled in the arms of Mary. But look closely at the face and it is not that of the mother of a 33 year old man. It is that of young woman. A wife, now a widow.
This truth, to me, makes the story of Jesus all the more powerful. Yes, pity indeed. But while these early Christians were creatively inspired they watered down other aspects of Jesus because obviously the fact that he was a real man with real human contradictions at times unnerved them somewhat. In the words of Father John Misty on his album Pure Comedy, “…they get terribly upset, when you question their sacred texts, written by woman-hating epileptics.”
Isn’t it ironic that the poster boy to a very large majority of the world, Jesus, whom even the Muslims honour as a holy prophet, is not recognised by his own people? I remember when I was living in L.A and serving on the board of the Starlight Foundation and we were having a black tie fund raiser one evening and a very wealthy Jewish woman went into a tirade about Jesus spitting venom and heated hatred about a man she’d never known. Arriving late into this conversation one would’ve thought she was talking about Hitler, or an exhusband. But no, it was that simple man from Nazareth who told us all to love each other. Being the only one with the guts to cut into this tirade with some logic, I offered up as my sacrifice, “Look I can understand you not believing he was the son of God, whatever that means, but what is there to hate about a man who preached love, forgiveness, redemption, understanding, and who loved children, animals, lepers, well, you name it, he seemed to be a walking lovefest?” There was silence and then she walked off in a huff of negative energy. A shame because I was truly interested in getting to the bottom of where this hatred for such a man sprang from.
Also ironic is the fact that people who on one hand intensely dislike Jewish people, on the other worship Jesus. The Rabbi Jesus that is. Strange.
Is the Jewish dislike of Jesus based upon the fact that they were called “Christ killers” in some misinformed circles? Well, again, don’t blame Jesus for that. He laid blame nowhere and on no one.
Another fact. Jews didn’t hate Jesus during his time here. Quite the opposite. They appeared to have adored him. Who were those thousands who came to hear him speak? That lined the roads to greet him? Who came to him with their problems seeking his help? Who were his disciples? Who were the first Christians?
The only Jews who had a problem with Jesus were a very small elite bunch of high priests led, or misled, by Joseph Ben Caiaphas, the highest honcho priest who was clearly in the pocket of the Romans. I have seen the layout of the palatial palace that Caiaphas was given by the Romans in exchange for keeping his tribe in line. Life was sweet for this pampered man until that Jesus character started becoming an overnight sensation amongst his own people. Hosanna indeed. Suddenly there was talk that he may be the long awaited Messiah, which fuelled excitement that the downtrodden masses may rise up and overthrow the Romans. Then came word of miracles. One even performed on the Sabbath. It is understandable why Caiaphas became deeply concerned about an uprising that would jeopardise his own authority and lifestyle. Something had to be done, and it was. The wheels were set in motion when this Jesus character proved he could not be bought or intimidated by threats. I believe, if for no other reason, Jesus deserves our respect for the simple fact that he didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk. A man so genuine in the beliefs he preached that he laid down his life in the most agonising way to confirm his commitment.
Blaming all Jews for the actions of Caiaphas is like blaming all Americans for Senator Joe McCarthy. Ridiculous.
Jesus had no interest in taking on the Romans, his main quest seemed to be to publicly expose Caiaphas to his own people as the fake and betrayer he no doubt was. A man who’d sold his own congregation out.
Which brings me to Judas whom I believe to be the most wrongly reviled man in history, and again a victim of a slapdash dumbing down rewrite of the complexities of the real story. Fact is Judas had friends among the high priests and I believe Jesus used him as the go-between to force a public confrontation between himself and Caiaphas. At the last supper when Jesus says to Judas, “Do quickly now what you must do” I take that to be an order, and no doubt Judas did too. But then things got out of hand. Jesus didn’t call Caiaphas the “sly old fox” for no reason.
And let’s not let the Romans off the hook. It’s amazing how they have escaped any lasting blame for their involvement in the bloody death of Jesus. Sure, Caiaphas started the fire but Pilate sealed the deal. I find it difficult to believe that a man as powerful as Pilate would be so reluctant to decide the fate of Jesus. What was one more Jewish life to this man? Based upon his track record, not much. Yet according to the scriptures written by Jewish men, Pilate time and again virtually pleads with the angry mob to spare the life of this preacher. He states that he sees in this man’s actions no disrespect or threat to Rome. Finally he pleads with Jesus to say something to let them both off the hook. But Jesus has already accepted his fate and knows full well that the prophecy must be acted out.
The reason we are given for Pilate’s out of character reluctance to execute Jesus is because his wife, Claudia, had a vision one night and told her husband that a holy man would come before him for judgement and that he must not condemn him or he will be condemned himself forevermore. It is interesting that in the Greek Orthodox Church Claudia is considered a saint for having had that vision.
Still, Pilate condemned Jesus to death. He may have washed his hands to symbolise that he wanted no part of the blame, but his failure to stand up to the mob calling for blood (many of whom it is suggested were paid by Caiaphas to begin the chant) makes him culpable just the same.
Given the above, I often marvel at the irony of the contradictory titled Roman Catholic Church. Not quite sure how Jesus would feel about those naming rights for the custodians of his truth. No doubt it was necessary to downplay the Roman involvement in the murder of Jesus in order to have the Empire embrace this new religion.
There are now manuscripts that reveal that Jesus’ brother James (another person who didn’t make the cut), and the apostles wanted to start their own religion in the name of Jesus. It no doubt would’ve stuck closer to the real story as they knew the real man and witnessed all the major events with him. They knew first hand what he felt and thought about things. It’s interesting to note that James was adamant that it would be a Jewish religion and honour all the accepted traditions as Jesus had. But this character named Paul came forth, a man who’d never known Jesus, saying he’d had a vision and been instructed by Jesus to start a new religion and open it up to the whole world. Up till then, Paul had persecuted the followers of Jesus and was on his way to Damascus to arrest others when he saw Jesus in a stunning light. For three days after this event Paul was blind until Ananias restored his sight. It is now believed that the obviously conflicted Paul also took epileptic fits.
With time the majority of Jews sided with Caiaphas and his version of events and the Jesus followers ended up in the St. Paul camp.
St. Paul is now the wellspring on which the current Roman Catholic Church draws its inspiration. I’d say that was a rocky and somewhat compromised source to begin with.
It is indeed a shame that in this sanctification of Jesus, a great deal of the real man has been lost. His very humanness to me is what makes his deeds all the more extraordinary. He did get angry, he did have doubts, he did fear, he did weep, he did love, he did care, he did feel pain, and he did laugh.
He was not an alien, or the angelic haloed image on a million posters and commissioned paintings, he was one of us. A son of man whom God would be most pleased with.
(C) Frank Howson 2019