What Would Jesus See? (And Did Jesus Study Abroad?)

What Would Jesus See? (And Did Jesus Study Abroad?) September 18, 2018

I have asked before whether Jesus had the kinds of cross-cultural experiences that typically enable people to see beyond the culture and values they were brought up in, becoming aware of what to others is like the air we breathe – invisible and unnoticed most of the time. As the headline of one recent article put it, “Travel changed these 4 people. Then they changed the world.” Could and should Jesus be on that list?

My thoughts were turned back to this topic recently in my Sunday school class, as we discussed the statement of Caiaphas that it is better to get rid of Jesus and not have the Romans send in troops in a manner that might lead to more bloodshed and perhaps even the destruction of both temple and nation.

I mentioned Ellis Rivkin’s book What Crucified Jesus? He received pushback on the title precisely because it is problematic, if not indeed deeply offensive to blame the system for the actions of human beings. If we are going to blame Caiaphas for doing what all the pressure from above, below, and sideways suggested he should, then we need to take a long hard look at ourselves and ask whether we resist through our words and actions in those moments when others would say “that’s just the way the system works” and “better that one person suffer than more, given that it is unavoidable.” Is it really unavoidable, or does it seem that way because of the social structures that human beings have put in place?

That led me to refer to not merely acting and speaking as Jesus would, as his followers, but seeing as he would. Jesus’ challenges to social structures that marginalized people based on purity, poverty, gender, ethnicity, and other factors had to be preceded by first seeing those things in a way that most people in a society would not.

What Would Jesus See? It’s an important question to ask, before we can move on to What Would Jesus Do? And in response, we are liable to recognize even more clearly his concern for social justice, his determination not merely to get the powerful to be nice to the powerless as they continue to trample them more gently underfoot, not merely to get the rich to toss their spare change in the direction of those who will be left continuing to need to beg.

Travel changed these 4 people. Then they changed the world.

The Church Should Be at the Forefront of the Fight for Social Justice

Travel changed these 4 people. Then they changed the world.

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  • John MacDonald

    Jesus’ challenges to social structures that marginalized people based on purity, poverty, gender, ethnicity, and other factors had to be preceded by first seeing those things in a way that most people in a society would not … [W]e are liable to recognize even more clearly his concern for social justice, his determination not merely to get the powerful to be nice to the powerless as they continue to trample them more gently underfoot, not merely to get the rich to toss their spare change in the direction of those who will be left continuing to need to beg.

    From a secular point of view, maybe the question as to whether Jesus was miraculous or not misses the didactic point. What is important is that we have his message: “Perhaps the words are more important than the man” (Kahless the Unforgettable’s clone, “Rightful Heir” episode, Star Trek The Next Generation).

    • John MacDonald

      One question I do have is about The Chicken And The Egg.

      Dr. McGrath sums up what he sees as Jesus’ “Ethical Superhero-ish” moral approach:

      That led me to refer to not merely acting and speaking as Jesus would, as his followers, but seeing as he would. Jesus’ challenges to social structures that marginalized people based on purity, poverty, gender, ethnicity, and other factors had to be preceded by first seeing those things in a way that most people in a society would not … What Would Jesus See? It’s an important question to ask, before we can move on to What Would Jesus Do? And in response, we are liable to recognize even more clearly his concern for social justice, his determination not merely to get the powerful to be nice to the powerless as they continue to trample them more gently underfoot, not merely to get the rich to toss their spare change in the direction of those who will be left continuing to need to beg.

      My question is, how do we know this “paradigmatic ethical Jesus,” reflects the historical man, rather than that “ethical legendary material” simply accrued around Jesus over time like “miraculous legendary material” did?

      May not Jesus simply have been the drunken glutton he is accused of by opponents (Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:34-36)?

      I remember reading John Dominic Crossan’s book “The Power Of Parable” a number of years ago, and he outlined a number of parable types in the Gospels, the most ethically laudable being what Crossan termed “The Challenge Parables.” The thing is, Crossan felt the most ethically impressive parables were also the ones that went back to the historical Jesus. Crossan’s reasoning seemed to be the “a priori” approach that Jesus must have been an ethical superstar, so any sayings/events that portrayed him as an ethical superstar must have been historical.

      I’m wondering what others think?

      • John MacDonald

        For instance, Jesus is a hero of social reform in the temple tantrum pericope, but we know this event was “legendary-ethical,” never having happened, because there would have been guards at the temple to deal with just such a disturbance.

        • That is certainly one possibility. Another is that the disturbance was on a very small scale, and/or Jesus disappeared into the crowd soon after carrying it out before he could be apprehended. For all we know, troops in position overlooking the temple moved quickly into action, but were unable to identify the perpetrator so as to apprehend him on the spot.

        • The Mouse Avenger

          Well, to be fair, legends can be true or false…

          Also, I think James McGrath came up with an excellent explanation for that! 🙂

  • AWRM

    Makes me think of the hymn (Blake): Did those feet in ancient time/ walk upon England’s mountain greens?

  • John MacDonald

    James said:

    I have asked before whether Jesus had the kinds of cross-cultural experiences that typically enable people to see beyond the culture and values they were brought up in, becoming aware of what to others is like the air we breathe – invisible and unnoticed most of the time.

    Another explanation could be that Jesus felt uncomfortable around people, and so was not caught up in being-with-them, and so was always a step back – and so able to see the forests for the trees – like Emily Bronte

    In the Preface to the Second Edition of Wuthering Heights, in 1850, Charlotte Bronte wrote of Emily:

    My sister’s disposition was not naturally gregarious; circumstances favoured and fostered her tendency to seclusion; except to go to church or take a walk on the hills, she rarely crossed the threshold of home. Though her feeling for the people round was benevolent, intercourse with them she never sought; nor, with very few exceptions, ever experienced. And yet she knew them: knew their ways, their language, their family histories; she could hear of them with interest, and talk of them with detail, minute, graphic, and accurate; but WITH them, she rarely exchanged a word

    Along these lines, Aristotle once asked what was it about the great, creative thinkers that made them such melancholics?

    Maybe Jesus was unsure of himself around people. This might explain Jesus’ prohibition against divorce as an instance of sour grapes?

  • Brien

    Considering the inconvenient fact that there is no objective and no contemporary evidence of the existence of any ‘jesus’ in real history –
    But Worse is that even if he had existed –
    there is certainly no evidence of any kind proving that he would be a god – presuming that there were any gods in reality !!!!