Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Occupy Jerusalem

James W. McCarty, III posted this to Twitter from his blog not long ago.  I thought it was brilliant.  What do you think?

Jesus was an Occupier

December 8, 2011

Yesterday I wrote a piece responding to Tony Perkins’s piece at CNN in which he claims that Jesus was not an occupier, but was “a free-marketer.” Well, his piece upset me so much I’ve decided to write another response to that ludicrous claim. So, here you go:

Theologically speaking, Christians have a variety of answers to the question of why Jesus was killed: to appease God’s anger for human sin, to bear the just punishment owed to God by a sinful humanity, as a moral example of suffering love for God that future Christians should follow, as a sacrifice offered to God for the forgiveness of human sin, as the ultimate example of God’s unending love for humanity, and several other formulations. Historically speaking, however, there is a nearly universally accepted answer among scholars as to why he was killed: Because Jesus occupied the temple.

During Jesus’ life the temple in Jerusalem was the symbolic center of Jewish religious, political, legal, and economic power. It was, in the words of one of my former Bible professors, the White House, Supreme Court, and Federal Reserve combined. During the time of Jesus’ life the temple had a practice of using “moneychangers.” Moneychangers had the task of exchanging Roman and other money for ‘temple money,’ and charged an exorbitantly high exchange rate to do so. So, the poor, in order to pay their temple taxes or for the animals needed to go through with their religious sacrifices, had to pay more than real value for this necessity. This practice was especially unjust in light of the fact that God allowed for different animals to be sacrificed by people of different socio-economic classes to avoid placing too great a burden on the poor. This temple practice, in spirit if not letter, was a direct violation of God’s law which was constructed with an eye toward helping the poor.

Jesus, within the week that he was killed, became quite angry about this practice. He turned over the tables of the moneychangers and chased the animals and those selling them out of the temple courtyard where this was practiced. He even made a whip and drove people out condemning the powerful for their perversion of holy space and exploitation of the poor and accusing them of turning the house of God, a house of prayer, into a “den of robbers.” Jesus occupied the temple. And they quickly killed him for it.

The Gospel of Mark informs us that it is after this incident that the religious leaders began plotting about how to kill Jesus (Mark 11:18). No longer was Jesus only someone who challenged their religious traditions and authority; now he was messing with their money. Jesus chose to occupy the temple and those he offended chose to have him occupy the cross instead.

Historically speaking, Jesus was a religious leader put to death by the Roman Empire for being a political threat. What was that threat? Jesus challenged the reigning political-economic system (which was also tied to religion) by taking over the space those in power claimed to hold a monopoly over. He shut-down, even if only for a very short-time, the reigning economic system that contributed to reifying the positions of the rich and poor in ancient Israel. He was killed for being an occupier.

I do not share this story to claim that Jesus’ actions in the temple naturally lead to the actions of those occupying Wall Street. Rather, I tell this story because there are some who are claiming that Jesus was not an occupier, and implying that those who are currently occupying Wall Street and other streets are in some way unchristian. This sort of claim is historically inaccurate. In fact, Jesus’ life makes no sense, historically speaking, without the decisive moment leading to his death being that he actually was an occupier.

What does this mean for us today?

It means that we cannot dismiss out of hand the actions of the occupy movement as inherently unchristian or anti-Jesus. Rather, it seems that people engaging in such activity should receive the benefit of the doubt that they are, in fact, being quite faithful to at least one of the key moments in Jesus’ life. Those who oppose such actions and defend the reigning economic system are the ones who bear the burden of proof that they are, in fact, remaining faithful to the example and teachings of Jesus the occupier.

I am not claiming that the occupy movement is, in fact, representative of what Jesus would do today or that it is a new form of church. Rather, I am simply stating that those who claim such actions can have nothing to do with the way of Jesus have seemingly missed a historical fact: Jesus was, perhaps the first, occupier.

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Anonymous said...

I can see it now. Jesus and Teddy Kennedy, Al Sharpton, Robert Byrd, Dan Rostenkowski, Tip O'Neill, Chris Dodd, Jesse Jackson, Nancy Pelosi, Jon Corzine, Charlie Rangel, - all those who've done the Lord's will over the years - will have a wonderful reunion in heaven.

Anonymous said...

The Wall Street protest is a secular socialist movement, backed by and initiated within the Obama organization.

Anonymous said...

I would add Barack Obama.

Anonymous said...

Read the last two paragraphs of the article. The author's limited point is completely justified.

Anonymous said...

I read the last two paragraphs again, and I stand by what I said. The Wall Street movement is a secular socialist movement initiated within and supportable by Barack Obama and his political machine.

Anonymous said...

Jesus occupied a cross.

Anonymous said...

More Saul Alinsky framed Liberation Theology crap brought to you by LJ , "the non socialist"!

Anonymous said...

I don't think it was brilliant. The following are supporters of Occupy Wall Street.

The American Communist Party
American Nazi Party
The Iranian Government
The Venezuelain Government
University of London Marxist Society
Democratic National Committee
The Minority Leader of the House
The President of the United States
The Communist Chinese
The Daily Kos
George Soros

Lorlee said...

Acorn doesn't exist anymore so it casts your whole list in doubt. Do you have a source?

Anonymous said...

CORN the national organizational is now defunct. The group has split into regional organizations under different names shown below.
Community Organizations International
Texans Together Education Fund
Health Care for America NOW!
Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment
Voting Is Power
Peace and Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas
Communities Voting Together
Pennsylvania Communities Organizing for Change
Affordable Housing Centers of America, Inc.
New England United For justice
A Community Voice
Communities United
Minnesota Neighborhood's Organizing For Change
Missourians Organizing For Reform and Empowerment
New York Communities For Change
Working Families Party
Pennsylvania Neighborhoods For Social Justice
Texas Organizing Project
Organization United For Reform (Our) Washington
American Institute For Social Justice

Larry James said...

Please simply hear what the writer is saying about the forces that were arrayed against Jesus. His point is undeniable, but most simply rush to ideological preconceptions. Sad.

rcorum said...

I try to read everything with an open mind and with a willingness to learn from anyone. I just feel very uncomfortable in making any comparison between Jesus and the occupiers. It seems to to cheapen what Jesus did. Jesus chose the die. Of course he was a revolutionary, but a spiritual one. Jesus and the early church seemed to have little concern with the politics of the day and felt like they could change the world by their message and not political revolt. I look forward to hearing many more responses.

Anonymous said...

The authors point is a non sequitur

Anonymous said...

" Jesus chose the die. Of course he was a revolutionary, but a spiritual one."

A spiritual one? Jesus did not die a spiritual death, but a physical one. Everything about his life was incarnation -- a physical dwelling.

Anonymous said...

Here is what James (the author of the blog) says about himself:

"James is a Christian Social Ethicist. Christian Social Ethics is a dynamic field of study that integrates historical and constructive theological reflection with social theory, social analysis, and social and political philosophy to address the pressing social and political issues of the day."

Constructive theological reflection? How do you "build" a reflection? Isn't a reflection, by definition, reconstructive?

Sounds like he's making up theology.

Larry James said...

anon 11:17, your source? While what you attribute to me sounds impressive, I didn't write it and I have no idea from whince it comes. Could you please let us know?

RC, appreciate your comment and attitude, as usual. I think that Jesus was a "spiritual revolutionary," but what does that mean in real life? I think it means a number of practical, world-shaping things today, and always has. The spiritual revolutionary is the most dangerous of all to the forces of evil and oppression at work in the world. In fact, one could argue that Jesus is behind almost every revolution for the good and betterment of mankind. Jesus was arrested and executed for being a threat to the social, political and religious institutions of his day. He challenged the thinking of his day and he paid for it. He stood with and for the marginalized as a part of his core mission. . .he had much more in common with the so-called occupiers than with most preachers or religious leaders that I know today.

Anonymous said...

James W. McCarty, III

Anonymous said...

I would say that I am amazed at some of the more vehement everybody's-a-socialist responses to this post, but how can I be amazed when the response to a straight, no comment posting of a Bible passage provokes negative responses.

In the end, all he really says is: "It means that we cannot dismiss out of hand the actions of the occupy movement as inherently unchristian or anti-Jesus...I am not claiming that the occupy movement is, in fact, representative of what Jesus would do today or that it is a new form of church. Rather, I am simply stating that those who claim such actions can have nothing to do with the way of Jesus have seemingly missed a historical fact: Jesus was, perhaps the first, occupier."

This strikes me as just a thought provoking observation.

Anonymous said...

Thanks LJ

Anonymous said...

That was not LJ. You have a very suspicious mind.

Anonymous said...

Larry, the author of the blog you quoted is the James I referred to in the anon 11:17 post. In his own bio he describes himself as one who "integrates constructive theological reflection with social theory...."

Apparently, you are not familiar with the sources you cite. Certain strong socialists believe words are vehicles adrift in time & space. They are unmoored and available for use by anyone for any reason. Taking words out of context is common, but most people apologize when they realized they've done so.

Those who engage in a "constructive theological process" believe the meanings they generate in response to biblical and theological writings is just as valid - maybe more so - than the meaning the original writer intended because, after all, the original writer is often dead and gone and unable to take action in the present. Thus, as theology must be lived, not merely observed, to live it in the present requires a "constructive" engagement with the text.

This is the kind of thinking that permits one to reconsider the role of Christ in diverse circumstances. Instead of tethered to revealed truth commonly associated with the much maligned acronym WWJD which does encourage applying a moral standard to daily decision-making, the mind is free to wonder in a very literal sense "What would my kind of Jesus do?" In this way, the Jesus story (the gospel) is twisted to meet a personal objective.

Strangely, when the some of the rich attempt to twist principles of living to justify their life decisions, some find it immoral. Yet it is the same structure of reasoning that is used to support taking wealth away from the rich.

"Jesus was an occupier." So in some way that must lend credence to what today's occupiers are doing.

You are naive if you think the normal and decent people of our society can not see through the language games the socialist left is hoisting upon us. We see what occupiers are doing, what they are saying, and how they are treating the communities in which they protest.

They are not us. We will vote. A few of them will vote, and probably two or three times. Which is necessary b/c for various reasons many of them can't fill out a voter registration form.

Dean Smith said...

According to historians, all the records of debt were stored in the Temple. This gives a deeper meaning to the Lord's Prayer, specifically, "Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors."

Dean Smith said...

As one prominent theologian has observed, any interpretation of Jesus' actions and teachings needs to take into account that they led directly to his brutal execution as an enemy of the state (and the Temple), especially since his protest was non-violent and redemptive. We would do well to consider that in our own interpretation of that event and its implications today.

Dean Smith said...

I was reminded of the non-violent, redemptive element of Jesus' protest, after hearing an historian comment on the non-violent protests in the Middle East. He observed that nearly all non-violent protests lead to a democratic government, while violent protests invariably lead to demagogues and dictators.

It would be inaccurate to characterize Jesus' life and teachings as a "social gospel," but equally inaccurate (and naive) not to acknowledge its clear social implications, both then and now.

Anonymous said...

From Mary’s Magnificat: “He has brought the mighty down from their thrones, and lifted the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away.”

Apparently his mother thought that's what Jesus was about.

Larry James said...

Anon 9:25' don't confuse the critics by quoting the Bible! Clearly, Mary the Mother of God was a "liberationist"!

Anonymous said...

Larry are you a proponent of liberation theology also?