Noble: The misunderstood Jesus—God is neither ATM nor weapon against marginalised people

Misunderstanding is an old human problem. All of us have experienced being misunderstood at some point in our lives.

Sometimes it is funny, as in sitcoms; they love to create misunderstandings or have characters lie for a laugh. But we know what it is to share something with someone, expecting empathy and support, only to have our hopes dashed—making us feel disconnected and alone when people misinterpret our words or actions.

Eh?

The same is true of God. When we encounter an inexplicable disaster, we call it “an act of God” as though misfortunes belong to Him. People bad-talk God routinely and take His name in vain umpteen times daily.

Even in the Church, there is often an inclination to misinterpret the Bible to suit impure objectives or desires. We saw it in the creation of the Slave Bible, an 1800 special edition used by British missionaries to convert and educate enslaved persons. This astonishing Bible edition excluded all texts that may inspire rebellion or the drive for liberation.

In reading the familiar stories of the Easter week in the Bible, we should be careful to sidestep misunderstandings and discover the genuine lessons.

Two crowds are noted in the Gospel accounts: the first shouted and welcomed Jesus as “The Promised One”; and the second, agitated and aroused by the Jewish religious leaders, called for his execution.

The painting ‘Christ Before Caiaphas’ was done by Italian painter Duccio di Buoninsegna before Michelango’s ‘Italianised’ version of Jesus.

Often we believe these crowds are the same and that their actions speak to the man’s fickleness. But it appears that the first crowd comprised his disciples and others who believed that he would militarily assume the reigns of their country against Roman rule.

The second group was led to believe that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy. Both were wrong. They lacked accurate knowledge of Him and His agenda and got side-tracked into folly.

Now we sometimes treat God as though He is an ATM (automatic teller machine). Whatever we ask, He must deliver! If He fails to do so promptly, we believe there is a systemic problem.

There is so much mumbo jumbo and myth-making because our religious leaders fail to teach Biblical truth. Some spout unreliable theological positions, making us less able to face life’s challenges and opportunities.

A satirical take on Jesus’ views on healthcare.
(Copyright Mike Peters)

The clearing of the temple by Jesus is another misunderstanding. As narrated in Mark 11: 15 – 18, the religious establishment saw a commercial opportunity—selling animals for sacrifices and changing money—and selfishly converted a space reserved for the non-Jews.

Jesus saw the religious fraud being perpetrated and the squeezing out of a minority group.

One may justify the selling to those pilgrims who came from afar, but why would Jesus label the vendors as “thieves” if not because of their excessive pricing? Why did those leaders feel emboldened to reduce the space allotted to the non-Jews?

When we pause and consider today’s Church, are we witnessing the hierarchy, in unison with commercial interests and allies, pushing out or ignoring those who should be helped?

An illustration of Jesus in the temple.

Why do some religious leaders curry-favour political figures and demonstrate blatant partisan behaviour? Why are they openly discriminatory against needy folk? Is their religious activity a mere front for profit?

We all should be careful: Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, is only half the reality. He can and does turn into a “leggo beast”.

Then we have the chap from Cyrene, Simon. It is evident that Simon was known among Christ’s followers (Mark 15: 21), but he was from North Africa—a foreigner press-ganged by the establishment into carrying the cross for Jesus.

Should we not pause and ask ourselves if we, like those establishment figures, separate persons from God by our actions? Do we practice in Jesus’ name discrimination in reprehensible forms?

Then United States president Donald Trump (left) greets supporters at a rally during his election campaign.
(Copyright Business Insider)

But the Easter story is also joyful. Consider Jesus’ love for the women witnesses. Do we realise that He spoke more words to them that He did to either the Roman or the religious leaders? Words of caution and comfort.

Women were the first witnesses of the Resurrection. This recounting goes contrary to the norms of that society and represents a radical affirmation of women. Yet, today in several churches, women are silenced or subordinated. It is almost as though their role is in the home.

How do we reconcile “submission” with Paul’s explicit commendation of a woman, Junia, in Romans 16: 7? She was cited as “outstanding among the apostles”.

The beautiful essence of the Easter story is the joy of forgiveness. Peter was forgiven for publicly rejecting Jesus. He was never condemned. The criminal, being executed with Jesus, was pardoned with an instant passage into paradise.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday.

How would we treat Peter today? Would he be damned forever? Would we even recognise the criminal’s childlike faith or ignore him today? Would we accept and act on the same impulse when and if we identify who Jesus is?

Easter presents us an opportunity for the inclusion of marginalised folk, an offer of forgiveness, and a new start. Let us guard against misrepresentations and misunderstandings that can get in the way.

We all should be seekers and ground our behaviour in a better knowledge base. Let us all examine ourselves and our actions to see if we are truly faithful to the Jesus of the Bible.

This wonder and awe at God’s mercy is the spirit of Easter.

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About Noble Philip

Noble Philip, a retired business executive, is trying to interpret Jesus’ relationships with the poor and rich among us. A Seeker, not a Saint.

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