By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
The enduring icon of the Christian tradition is the birth of a world savior under inauspicious circumstances who rises to great heights only to meet a tragic fall but in doing so achieves ultimate and everlasting victory. Our Christmas holiday for all its secular permutations and protestations remains explicitly religious and serves as a life marker for a vast number of the population. So it’s worth thinking about how a Jesus figure would actually be received today by those self-professed religious if he decided to make a return visit.
Imagine the under-educated son of a stonemason (no, not a carpenter as poor translations would have it) rising from obscurity in a small town somewhere in godforsaken America. Imagine at age twelve, the bright boy being admitted to the round table of society’s greatest religious leaders to discuss theology and impressing those dour men of God.
Fast forward a decade or two and then imagine a hippie-like figure at the “you should know better” age of 30 traveling around the country with a motley group of followers preaching radical views like the rich are not going easily to Heaven despite their wealth. Blessed are the wretched poor living in cardboard boxes in the streets of major cities for theirs is paradise in the next world. That Madison Avenue has it wrong–it’s the meek and humble who win the Earth in the end and not the well-coiffed, perfume laden slender reed of a man who looks good in his Armani. That peace is the goal of international relations and not oil, land, or world domination; that killing your enemies in a sneak attack is no cause for celebration in the streets but a blight on your soul. That many of our esteemed leaders — both religious and political – are neither esteemed nor real leaders. Then, think about that most radical thought of all! Yes, that justice does exist and that stern justice against the wicked (read that as rich, powerful, hypocritical, oppressive, and arrogant) is not only possible but inevitable.
Care to guess how that loving soul would be received in the halls of power in Judeo-Christian philosophized America circa 2013? If you guessed “not well,” take the prize. In fact, regardless of party affiliation these ideas are never well-received by the powers that be chiefly because they express a hope of solidarity among the people that threatens the platform of class warfare forged on disparities of wealth upon which all earthly power lays sprawled. Ideas like Jesus’ never sit well because they give power to the powerless and the most venial among us see power as a finite commodity with their name on it.
Think the population would rise up and recognize this deity of love and flock to him? Past history doesn’t bode well. Abraham Lincoln saved a lot of people as was shot for his trouble. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy preaching remarkably similar views to the Nazarene were gunned down. Anwar Sadat was executed soon after signing a peace treaty. The grim list of doing the right thing with tragic consequences goes on. Oh, some progress was allowed and the sad propitiations were made but the powers that were remained the powers that be. Thus, it bears asking the insufferably sad question: What if Superman really did show up and no one believed it?
Faced with this state of affairs, what would Jesus do? If he cashed in his return ticket who could blame him considering how his first trip ended. But the purported omniscient creator of the universe surely understands that, and, if you believe in the Christian tradition, he still cares. That’s what makes the Christmas season so special. It’s the Heaven-borne belief that one day power may yet yield to compassion and come to realize that the race’s survival depends on it. It means something else too — if the creator of all believes in that hope enough to risk it with his own son, maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance it’s possible.
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger