Life is hard for us maniacal egotists. The Pulitzer committee takes no notice of this blog’s journalistic and literary excellence while the panels in Stockholm and Oslo repeatedly fail to reward me my first Nobel Prize. I’m beginning to think they’ve never seen my Internet knoll. That’s harsh.
Thus my swelling head with last week’s pingback flood: Everyone was fawning over my insightful October 10th entry, “What Would Jesus Occupy?,” which speculated that our Lord would cheer the marchers as they echoed his cries against greed. At last, the sun was shining on my head. At last, my bald spot was gleaming. At last the committees would send me their e-mails while fumbling for their sunglasses (“Ever thought of wearing a hat on sunny days?”).
But the fawners suddenly vanished. The pingback cluster really stemmed from a single blog post written by conservative J.E. Dyer. She disagreed with me and others: “What would Jesus occupy? … I believe the answer, based on his life on earth, is: nothing. Our society has become all but deaf to those implications, glorifying as we do the force majeure of entitlement and sanctimony. But Jesus is the very antithesis of an occupier.” Other conservatives cut and pasted her statements (along with her link to mine, thus the pingbacks) because Dyer eloquently argued why I and others are dead wrong.
Oslo and Stockholm residents pocketed their sunglasses.
Insight amid oversight
Dyer’s essay has much to commend it – not the least of which is her civility. The retired naval intelligence officer never ridicules. She even seems friendly. We could be pals. And surely warnings against an “Occupy Wall Street” Jesus are well taken. Does anyone remember the hippy-flower-child Jesus in some circles in the 1960’s? Cringe, please. Jesus transcends modern political categories and drinks from a far deeper well. Christ is all about the Kingdom of God, not an alternative political movement.
Yet, at the same time, Dyer’s vision of our Lord is so tame and domestic, so meek and mild. She builds her argument on one verse, Revelation 3:20 (“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me”) and says: “Jesus never went anywhere uninvited.” Really? Did the angel Gabriel deliver God’s request for the incarnation to Mary (Luke 1:26-38)? Did the 12-year-old Jesus dutifully inform his parents before lagging behind and questioning the temple authorities (Luke 2:41-52)? Read the first three chapters in Mark’s Gospel: He touched and healed a leper in violation of the Law (1:41), forgave sins and alienated the authorities (2:1-12), ate with sinners and tax collectors (2:13-17), breached fasting traditions (2:23-27), and broke Sabbath norms when he healed a shriveled hand (3:1-6). He could have muttered to the victim: “Another bad-hand day won’t hurt. Come back tomorrow so all feathers stay smooth.”
There’s no avoiding it: Jesus was a troublemaker. He deliberately sparked controversy.
Our images of the tame, domesticated, come-to-me-little-children Jesus should liquefy when we confront passages describing the temple cleansing, but Dyer’s interpretation is curious: “He entered the Temple in obedience to the Father, as a Jew going to worship: exercising the privilege of a Jew under the commandments of God and the system of worship and priestly authority God had instituted.” Dyer may be correct – technically. But compare her antiseptic description with the fourth Gospel’s: “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:13-16, NIV). Or Matthew’s: “Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers’” (21:12-13).
Tables slug walls … whips crack … coins clink on stone floors amid scrapes from sandaled feet. Some interpreters call the subsequent days “the temple occupation.”
One wonders: Why would anyone crucify the friendly, meek-and-mild Jesus?
Then bring in the rest of the Scriptures, remembering that Christ is God incarnate. He was there when God created the universe at his own initiative, cast out our progenitors from paradise, sent plagues on Egypt, drowned its army, opened a hole in the desert floor that swallowed hundreds of rebels, and forced wayward Israel to grope for its identity in exile. Read all about Revelation’s thunder, lightning, destruction, and mayhem. God is the “Lion of Judah” and Jesus is God. He knocks on the door in one verse but blows down mansions in a slew of others. God is the occupier par excellence.
A familiar ghost from the past
Dyer’s thoughtful essay dissolved into clichés toward its end: “It is missing the point of Jesus to invoke him in an argument (or a protest) about the Marxist concept of ‘economic justice.’ That crudely self-referential human concept is about what others have and what others have done.”
There we go again: Marxism … Communism … Socialism. Her straw man shows she’s not listening to the marchers – those human manifestos, those emblems with souls, those insignias against “self-referential” Wall Street greed and its entitlement mentality: Bail us out but don’t regulate us. If every protest against greedy wealth is Marxist, then Jesus was a Marxist when he declared, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. We to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry” (Luke 6:24-25a). So was James: “The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower” (1:9-10). And so were the US Catholic bishops when they issued their still-relevant statement in 1986: “Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the US Economy.”
The crux of it all …
And that’s the crucial point: Listening. Of course the Wall Street marchers do not capture the whole of Jesus’ teaching; of course the nascent movement knows little of a personal God and nothing of life in the Holy Spirit. That’s no big surprise. But listen for the real shock: Many have caught a whiff of God’s revulsion for greed. Listen: They’re talking about selflessness. Listen: They want something beyond the material world …
My guess is that Christ is doing precisely that. He’s walking with the marchers and listening. Why wouldn’t Jesus possess the grace to march with them, commending them when they’re right and challenging them to stretch themselves? I have felt that grace myself – and if there’s hope for maniacal egotists like me, there’s hope for everyone.
For more reading:
The US Catholic bishops: