Jesus Wasn’t A Radical

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Jesus was a radical. 

Christians love this idea, almost universally. It doesn’t really matter if you are conservative, progressive, anarchist or something else. All manner of Christians have laid claim to this notion of how radical Jesus was.

As if being radical somehow makes Jesus and his teachings more worthwhile, revolutionary, or important.

But what if they aren’t?

A number of scholars and historians have argued for some time that Jesus’ teachings weren’t necessarily unique or even that out of the ordinary. Instead, they argue that Jesus was influenced by the teachings of other rabbis and his own teachings stood very much within the Jewish tradition.

So what if Jesus wasn’t remotely radical, at least as we tend to understand that word in today’s culture?

What if love of neighbor isn’t radical?

What if the call to share both wealth and food isn’t radical?

What if it’s everything else that’s actually radical?

Think about it.

Not sharing food with those who are hungry is a radical position.

Not offering shelter to those experiencing homelessness is a radical position.

Not welcoming the desperate refugee is a radical position.

Not accepting ethnicities, genders, or sexualities just because they are different than your own is a radical position.

Not liberating those imprisoned is a radical position.

Not visiting the sick, the lonely, and the rejected is a radical position.

Not seeking a leveling of power and the empowering of the marginalized is a radical position.

Not loving others is the most radical position of all.

Letting fellow humans go hungry, without shelter, refuge, and dignity might be disturbingly common in our world, but it’s also radical. Because any belief or action that denies, distorts, or brutalizes the humanity of others is the perspective of a radical extremist.

It’s often said Jesus was executed because he was a radical. I think we’ve got it backwards. The Romans executed Jesus because they were radical, not because he was. Killing people is always a radical act. We do both Jesus and humanity a disservice when we use selfishness and bigotry to define what’s normal and use generosity and love to define what’s radical.

Jesus wasn’t radical.

We are.

We who refuse to love, to seek liberation, and to be fully human.

 

Image Credit: “Jesus the Lord” by Rodrigo Lübbert, used under Creative Commons Copyright (Cropped and Text Added)

 

About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He is ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He lives in North Carolina, is a father of two boys, and the husband of a medical resident.

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