Was Jesus just a nice guy? Some Christians seem to think so. They are very concerned with being proper and polite. They immediately disavow anyone who is discovered to have a less than pristine past, even, and perhaps especially, those who have been allies in the culture war. Apparently for fear they be tainted by association or some sort of holier-than-thou position, they quickly throw said offender under the bus. So much for “there but for the grace of God go I” or Jesus’s treatment of say, the woman caught in adultery. This attitude seems a far cry from Jesus’s relationship with sinners.
Or was Jesus a troll? Blogger Fencing Bear at Prayer (by day a tenured professor of Medieval Studies at Chicago University), thinks Jesus was likely seen as a troll during his lifetime (and perhaps if we paid attention, he’d be viewed that way today too). She has recently written some controversial things, for which she has of course been attacked. Her worst offense? Defending Milo: “I have said over and over again, much to the ridicule of many of my academic colleagues and the journalists who have gotten wind of my blog, that the reason I love (yes, love, in the Christian sense of profound charity) Milo is because he tells the truth.” Unsurprisingly, she also describes herself as a “Catholic catechumen.”
It’s hard being a Christian. On the one hand, there is the image that everyone has from going to Sunday School, of Christians as goody-two-shoes…
On the other hand, there’s Jesus. Jesus drank with sinners. Jesus ate with tax collectors. Jesus made friends with women of ill repute. Jesus wandered about the countryside gathering crowds and scaring the authorities.
Jesus was a troll.
Think about the day he announced himself to his village. He stood up and read the Scriptures for the day: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
And then he gave the book to the attendant, sat down, and said: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
And all wondered and said, how could it be, wasn’t he Joseph’s son? At which he replied: “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country.”
And the people rose up against him, and drove him out of town. This was only the beginning of his trolling.
Jesus knew they all hated him, both the Pharisees on the Right, who tried to live purely according to the Law, and the scribes on the Left, who were functionaries of the Jewish state. And he denounced them regularly in his preaching as hypocrites and fools.
“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”
And then he marched into Jerusalem, straight up to the most holy place in the city, and vandalized it.
“It is written,” he said, “‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of thieves.”
Authorities on both the Right and the Left were not pleased.
You know the rest of the story.
Jesus so enraged the holders of power in his community that they trumped up charges against him, trying to get him to blaspheme so that they could invoke the death penalty against him.
When Truth speaks to Power, Power bites back. Hard.
But what Power does not know is that Truth will prevail. Because Jesus’s kingdom is not of this world.
People who value the Truth are the ones who don’t gloss over this side of Jesus, because this Jesus is just as true as the one who said “to turn the other cheek” — it seems a contradiction, and for some, it’s easier to focus on the nice Jesus and forget that this other part of Jesus exists. But this is God we’re talking about here, so we shouldn’t be too surprised by qualities that are both complex and difficult to understand.
Mathew Kelly writes in Rediscovering Jesus, that Jesus was a radical:
What does radical mean? It means to get to the “root” of things. Jesus was interested in getting deep down to the root of things. He was interested in what was essential — not the fluffy periphery, but the core, the center, the heart of things. He wasn’t burdened with the need to be liked by people. He wasn’t moved by desire for expediency or convenience. Instead, he simply allowed truth to reign supreme.
Truth is radical.
People who love the Truth, love Jesus. Those who don’t know Jesus, but pursue the Truth are seeking God, whether they know it or not. If you seek Truth long enough, it will lead you to Jesus.
I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life – John 14:6