"A New King"










It is supremely ironic that Christianity became the religion of Empire. Because the thing I love about it — the reason why I get choked up every Good Friday, joyful every Easter, and hopeful every Christmas — is the story of the savior (whether you think him God or fully human) being born a helpless infant to poor people under occupation, whose family had to flee to another land to save his life, who as an adult hung out with social outcasts, who preached that “the last shall be made first,” and who was tortured to death by Roman decree. The glory of Jesus’ story isn’t (in my opinion and that of many others) that he was God made flesh who died for our sins. The glory of Jesus’ story is that his entire life he lived on the margins, and yet at the lowest point when all seemed lost, he ultimately was raised up most high. (Whether you believe it was by God or humans. (Or both.)) To every person who has ever felt outcast, that is a story that resonates. (Although some are unable to hear it, understandably, because of the empire thing.)

Or maybe it isn’t ironic that Christianity became the religion of Empire. Maybe Empire recognized the power of the story, the threat it posed, and co-opted it in order to control and obscure it.

The version of Jesus’ story that Empire promotes focuses on Christ the King, the ruler, the conqueror. It conveniently forgets that Christ the King was FIRST Jesus the child, not different from the children of Aleppo, or of Standing Rock. That part of the story must always come first, lest the focus on “King” (conveniently) transform Jesus from an emblem of hope to a justification for Empire.

And that is exactly what RNC chairman Reince Priebus was doing in not-so-subtly comparing Trump to Jesus, announcing a “new King.” Trump has never been the babe born into poverty, never been the refugee child, and never been the man who sided with and was himself an outcast. He cannot understand, let alone represent, the low made high. If Trump is “king” he is only conqueror, tyrant, ruler of Empire.

Three Faces of Jesus

When I was a child, I spoke as a child and understood as a child. 
When I became a man, I put away childish thoughts. (Cor. 13:11)

As the son and grandson of Presbyterian ministers it was assumed by my family that I would enter the ministry. In 1945 I visited a theological Seminary, but left after several days due to my unresolved doubts about the dogmas and creeds of the Presbyterian Chrurch. Depsite my doubts, I never lost my love for the wisdom found in classical Biblical literature and that of other world religions.

As a young man, I read a passage by the great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy. In his book, The Kingdom of God is Within You, published in 1894, he stated:

"The true Christian teaching is very simple and obvious to all. But it is simple and accessible only when men are free from the falsehoods in which we are all educated, and that are passed off as God's truth. We must first understand that all the stories telling how God made the world six thousand years ago, how Adam sinned, how the human race fell, and how the son of God, a God born of a virgin, came to earth and redeemed mankind are all fables. The Gospel of Jesus tells only of what men must do to save themselves. For this purpose, it is only necessary to treat others as we wish to be treated. On this hang all the law and prophets, as Jesus said." For his views, Tolstoy was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox church.

When I began my quest for the historical Jesus, I found myself confused by the contradictions regarding his life and message. I discovered, not one, but three distinct personalities presented by the authors of the four gospels. It reminded me of the 1959 film, The Three Faces of Eve, that deals with a woman possessed with three personalities. Jo Ann Woodward won the Academy Award for her portrayal of Eve in the film.

There is the profile of Jesus who speaks an exclusive language, telling his followers, "Whosoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever doesn't, will be damned eternally." Who performed miracles, such as walking on water and turning water into wine. And when hungry, places a curse on a fig tree whose fruit was not yet in season.

The second profile is that of a revolutionary rabbi who spoke out for social justice. This Jesus tells a rich young ruler, "Go sell all you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven." He did not hesisitate to break the rigid laws of the Jewish Sabbath when he encountered the poor, destitute people who were hungry. Finding moneychangers in the Temple selling doves and sheep to pilgrims, he angrily turns over their stalls and drives them from the House of Worship, using a whip made of rope.

The third portrait is that of a compassionate miracle worker who showed, that with tenderness and unselfish love, humans can be healed in body, mind, and spirit. This is the all-inclusive Jesus who taught that, "The kingdom of God is not to be found in the sky or the sea, but within us and all about us."

I ask myself, how does one reconcile these contradictions? I found my clue in the language of reverence, carved on the altar table of our sanctuary. It states: "ALL SOULS ARE MINE." From that point in my spiritual quest, I applied the all-inclusive principle to every passage ascribed to Jesus. Like the chaff blown from kernels of wheat, I discovered, not three, but one profile of an extraordinary human being whose authentic voice echoes in the core of my being. Through his living, not his death, Jesus showed me that atonement is achieved by accessing the Divine spark that dwells within me and in all of humankind.

As an African American who has walked through "the valley of the shadow of death," both reason and experience fused the foundation upon which my faith now rests. I cannot explain it rationally, becauseradical Love and hospitality cannot be explained factually or objectively. The proof is in the experience of loving, sharing, and serving others unselfishly, as Jesus said. From this experience, I believe that "God is not the object of either time or space, but God is Love - the creative Spirit of Life."

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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative