The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!” -- John 2:13-16
Like political ones, religious discussions are best entered slowly and in measured tones, as strong opinions and widely varied interpretations are the rule. I want to share my upbringing and background, so that readers are more able to understand my perspective. I was baptized into the Catholic Church, and spent a lot of my youth marinating in Catholic traditions and culture. In Appalachia, Catholic Churches were scarce, and Catholics were very much outsiders in any religious discussion which took place in the real world. In 7th grade history class at my public middle school, our teacher asked students to raise their hands if they belonged to any of the various religions she enumerated aloud. I shudder to think how this would go over today. When she called out “Christian,” I raised my hand. When she called out “Catholic,” I raised my hand again. A girl from my church and I were the only kids who raised our hands twice. In my area of the world, I’m sure the misconception that Catholics aren’t even Christians persists, even though the first Christian Church in the world was the Catholic Church.
I married a Methodist, and we felt it best to choose a single church since we planned to start a family. Leaving the Catholic Church is quite difficult mentally and emotionally for those who attempt it, and I was no exception. The Church was in the midst of the pedophilia/priest scandal at the time, and this coupled with the fact that Pope Benedict XVI seemed bent on steering the Church in a more conservative and fundamentalist direction made my decision a bit easier. My wife and I compromised and joined the Episcopal Church, which seemed to split the difference quite nicely. A maternal uncle of mine is an Episcopal Priest, and his writings, sermons, and wisdom continue to influence me.
I am not a Biblical literalist. I don’t believe the Earth was created in six days. I believe in evolution. Piles of evidence support the “Big Bang” theory to which I ascribe. To some, this may seem contradictory or even blasphemous, but I’m not an atheist. No scientific atheist has ever been able to adequately answer (in my view) a very simple question: Where did the matter come from which created the Big Bang? If the universe is continuously expanding from a central point, we can infer that all the mass, matter, and energy in the entire universe were essentially once concentrated on the head of a pin. To me, that is where God resides. I’ve entered many debates with people spanning a spectrum from accomplished atheistic scientists to career religious scholars, and no one has ever been able to definitively prove the origin of the universe. Perhaps it just “always was,” but if it is expanding, it’s reasonable to assert that it was once tightly condensed at a single point. I’ll spare you further theories, but I feel it is important to show you where I am on my journey. As a lifelong student of science, doubt, discourse, and discovery are about as holy a trinity to me as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The modern Christian Bible wasn’t assembled until hundreds of years after the death of Jesus. The politics of power undoubtedly shaped the Bible, and Constantine (one of the most important political figures throughout history) did as much to influence Christianity as Christ himself. The First Council of Nicea in 325 produced the first official declaration from the Christian Church that Jesus and God are equally divine. Early Christians debated this point, but after the Council of Nicea, openly doubting the divinity of Jesus earned one an exile into obscurity. Constantine was monumental in shaping both the political and religious worlds for the centuries which followed. He officiated the marriage of Christianity and secular politics, and that marriage survives to this day.
Is Jesus the Son of God? I can’t prove it, and so I will always have at least a shred of doubt. No one ever found His body, but His isn’t the only case of a missing corpse in history. Perhaps He believed He was truly the Son of God, but if so, isn’t it strange that He referred to Himself as the “Son of Man” so frequently? Maybe He viewed Himself as the Son of God in the same way that we are all God’s children. Thomas Jefferson was a lot smarter than me, and though also a Christian, he privately doubted the deity of Jesus.
The point of this essay is that Jesus, perhaps unintentionally, became one of the most highly political figures of all time. He was a revolutionary who threatened to upset the established order, and He was killed for it. Why do the Old and New Testaments so often read like contradictions? It’s because Jesus intended to change everything. Turn the other cheek, don’t take an eye for an eye. Don’t stone the adulteress, forgive her. Lepers aren’t sinners to be shunned, they are people who need human compassion.
Throughout history, millions have died either fighting against or defending the name of Jesus. Jesus has been used to justify slavery, torture, theft, and genocide. While He walked the Earth, did He intend to be the basis for these vile practices? Of course not. If it were up to Him, I don’t think any human would die due to violent causes, hunger, or treatable illness. Since the 4th Century, fallible men have commandeered Jesus to serve their own selfish needs. But we have to understand that with their actions, these men didn’t travel back in time and make Jesus evil. Using Jesus to justify misdeeds and crimes doesn’t change who He was.
I’ve meandered through the Bible a few times in my 40 years, and a handful of New Testament passages always stand out for me. The first one is the verse at the top of this essay. It is striking because it is the only time Jesus appears to get genuinely angry, perhaps even enraged. It is clear that the profiteers who set up shop at the Jewish temple in Jerusalem got under His skin. To read of such a customarily patient, docile Jesus driving out animals with whips, and flipping over booths and stalls speaks much about His heart and mind. This passage should help us understand what Jesus truly thinks of capitalists and con men who use His name to enrich themselves by taking advantage of the vulnerable.
Perhaps the most meaningful passage in the Bible for me is the story of Jesus washing the Apostles’ feet:
”The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” -- John 13:2-5
Why is this so significant? This passage beautifully and succinctly illustrates how God’s love is poured out for us. We may not deserve it, but it is given anyway. God will bow before us and wash the dirtiest parts of us, if we only accept Him. The verse is also a charge for us to follow the example of Jesus and humbly serve humanity. Working for those who outrank us is wage earning, not service. Instead, we should serve those who exist lower on the social ladder, and for no remuneration. That is the true Christian calling. Wherever there is charity, service, humility, and hope, there is God. No political party has exclusive rights to Jesus, but it requires a great deal of mental gymnastics to argue that the most Christian party in modern America is the GOP.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ – Matthew 25:35-40
Is Jesus is a supreme deity, a prophet called by God himself, or a revolutionary who tirelessly worked for the less fortunate? The jury is still out. But whichever one you think He was, His life and lessons prove He was never greedy, always welcoming, a perpetual peacemaker, and a fierce advocate for the disadvantaged. Americans should remember that when lawmakers who wave crosses push policies which seem to fly in the face of Christian teachings.
Contributing Editor: Keith Pochick
Keith Pochick is a residency-trained Emergency Physician and Freelance Writer in North Carolina. He mostly explores ways to maintain humanism in medicine and the importance of promoting health of doctors and healthcare workers. An avid, albeit amateur American History buff, he currently thinks and writes about sustaining America’s identity and ideals. He is married to a pediatrician, and spends his free time cleaning his own gutters and coaching a 4th grade hoops team. Though he cut his teeth on Led Zeppelin, at times he will sing along to Taylor Swift songs in his minivan, even when no one else is in there. He has found Taylor Swift songs to be catchy as hell.