On Careless Memeing: Radical Jesus

I recently wrote a response to a meme that was posted by my dear friends and a member of my family, and was ‘liked’ by many others whom I count as dear friends. I admit to being hurt by the uncritical enthusiasm for this meme and the use it was put to by my dear ones. Had they but asked, we could have talked in earnest about what the historic Christian faith has said on these matters. We may have forged alliances and committed to growth.

My reply was unvarnished, and contained awkward sentences, typos, and a mis-citation. What I have done is edit and expand (slightly) for the sake of clarity. I must say also that I did not expect the resonating response from Christians, and utter silence by the friends that I was addressing. Seeing that it seemed to encourage and bless people, I resolved to provide a version less hastily composed.

Here is the URL for the meme.

Radical Jesus Meme

This is one of the /worst/, most biased, anachronistic, agenda driven meme’s I’ve seen in a long time!

Either the assertions are oversimplifications, anachronisms, or just plain wrong.

“Radical” 

This depends on what you mean. But this is a meme so I don’t expect definitions.

“Nonviolent”:

Jesus was not a pacifist. If you mean that he just didn’t resist when they let him to the cross, that’s another matter. A balanced and honest view would acknowledge the instructions not to return evil for evil, and turn the other cheek, while accepting His use of force, and the overall respect for the old testament laws requiring violent response from government.

“And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.” John 2:15

That’s pretty violent by today’s standards (can you imagine it at your local public gathering?). But, he also didn’t tell soldiers to stop their employment, nor kings not to exercise their power of the sword, but instead, assumed it would be the case that some violence is necessary.

He said he came to bring a sword, which is symbolic of truth and division (one passage says sword, the parallel says division). This is not a declaration of pacifism, nor of tolerance (as currently conceived), but that the truth divides.

“Hung around with lepers, hookers, and crooks”

-He healed lepers.
-Told prostitutes (adulteress) to “sin no more” (that is, stop having illicit sex).
-And told dishonest men to repent and deal honestly.

“And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, ‘Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.'”

The sick. Sinners. Repentance. Get it?

“Anti-wealth”

This is just false. He was against seeking wealth for its own sake, or seeking it dishonestly. He was also against serving mammon (money), and any other kind of idolatry.

“Anti death penalty”

Again, this is false. Jesus held to the rightness of old testament penology, even quoting it to those who asserted the Corban rule in order to avoid honoring their parents.

“And he [Jesus] said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.’” (Mark 7:7-13, ESV)

And even if you don’t hold the Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11) as canon Scripture, the story seems authentic, and he did not repudiate the death penalty for adultery, rather he saw that the accusers were not obeying the law of God, both offenders were to be stoned, and therefore all the participants were sinning against God’s law in many ways. Jesus’ words make good sense in this context.

I don’t know, but I can imagine Jesus may have written Deuteronomy 22:22 in the dust, “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.” And perhaps when he resumed writing, he may have quoted Leviticus 19:15, “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.”

The heart of the trap was the prohibition in Roman Law against putting anyone to death except by the authority of the Roman Prefect. If indeed they were in accord with justice and the authority they were under, they could have done what they did with Jesus, Himself–gone before to the Prefect to ask for an execution.
“Anti-public prayer”

This is deceptive and wrong. Jesus prayed publicly on many occasions (giving thanks for loaves and fish, Lazarus’ tomb, the High priestly prayer of John 17, “Father forgive them…”from the cross.). He publicly taught others to pray. He also prayed privately.

I’m sure there is some thin justification given for saying this, but it cannot amount to more that a fallacious proof texting given all the historic record says about Jesus. I suspect I know what passage the meme is referring to, but it’s about religious hypocrisy.

“Was never anti-gay”

Jesus approved of the whole of old testament Law. Further, he defined all non-marital sex as sin, and marriage between one man and one woman. The idea of “gay” as we conceive it today is encompassed in these moral teachings.

“Never mentioned abortion or birth-control”

Again, Jesus believed what the old testament said about what human beings are, and that killing the innocent is wrong.

Anyone who would claim that Jesus thought a woman was justified in reaching into her own womb to kill her own offspring has the burden of proof.

On the birth control matter, given what he endorsed and taught about sex and marriage, this would be a pretty narrow topic, but I don’t think either the OT or NT teach about birth control aside from those methods that actually destroy innocent life. So this point is simply superfluous.

“Never called the poor lazy, never justified torture, never fought for tax cuts for the wealthiest Nazarenes, never asked the lepers for a copay”

This is simple political mongering.

Assuming the book of Proverbs was in Jesus’ canon, laziness is addressed there, and Jesus’ blanket endorsement of the Hebrew Scriptures includes this: “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.” Being a proverb, it is a general rule, and not always true. And any fair teaching on a Christian theology of laziness and wealth must also take into account oppression, sin, and fortunes common to humanity. Such an oversimplification is inexcusable to any rational person.

Of course he never justified torture. His own death by torture was an evil act by wicked people.

Tax cuts? This is simple anachronism. he was opposed to oppression. If you think the teachings of Jesus in the NT had our tax code in view, show me.

Copays? I suppose that would have to wait for a few centuries for Christians to invent the hospital. “in-patient medical care in the sense of what we today consider a hospital, was an invention driven by Christian mercy and Byzantine innovation.” (wikipedia)

Anachronism isn’t helpful to anyone. It’s far better if you care about Christian ethics, as I do, to establish what that might be, and how to apply it, from Christian ethicists. This amounts to cheap political shots, cast in a pseudo-piety that belittles both politics and piety.

“Was…long-haired [and] brown skinned.”

I’m pretty confident he was brown skinned, but I know nothing of his hair, and neither do you. If you’re relying on the images of Caesar Borgia that pass for Jesus icons, that’s your bad. You don’t know what he looked like, and the omission of that kind of detail from the Bible is likely purposeful.

“Was…homeless”

Probably didn’t own a home. True. But the meme no doubt means more than this.

“Was…[a] community organiz[er]”

No he wasn’t. He was an itinerant preacher standing for the righteousness of God among a wicked generation.

What we mean by “community organizer” is a person with a political agenda who intends to get people motivated toward a political end. This was not Jesus at all.

“anti-slut-shaming”

Ridiculous. He told prostitutes and adulteresses to stop, repent, and sin no more. Don’t think for a minute that Jesus thought being a ‘slut’ isn’t a sin.

This post-feminist idea assumes a moral framework completely foreign to Jesus, who was a first century:

“Middle-Eastern Jew.”

Finally! Something about Jesus that is uncontroversially true!

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About lindsaynbrooks

Lindsay Brooks is co-host of the Apologetics.com Radio Show, and an Elder at Soaring Oaks Presbyterian Church in Elk Grove, CA.

Posted on December 30, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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