Are We Reading the Jesus Story for Inspiration –
or Incitement?

Are We Reading the Jesus Story for Inspiration –
or Incitement?
July 19, 2013

Matthew Fox opens the second Christ Path weekend: “I’m interested in seeing you as a revolutionary!”

I want to welcome you to the conversations of the second Christ Path Seminar – Cosmic Christ and the Historical Jesus.

As we enter these conversations, Andrew and I both feel the time has come to urge more and more people who want to follow a Jesus path, whether singly or in tandem with other paths, to really wake up, because time is running out for our planet as we know it and our species as we know it.

These are serious times – but not lugubrious times; play and celebration and prayer all play a part in strengthening the heart so that we can do our work together.

We live in a marvelous time when 250 years of exploration about “who is the historical Jesus” has really come to a crescendo. Whether we’re reading Bruce Chilton or Marcus Borg or John Dominic Crossan or others, it’s marvelous to have this nourishment in front of us, and we must not take it for granted; we have to start running with it.

So the assignment I was given by Andrew in beginning these conversations was to talk about Jesus as a revolutionary. And I worked hard on this; I went back and read a lot of these scripture scholars…and then I realized that something was bothering me, deep down.

And what was bothering me was – frankly, I’m not all that interested in Jesus as a revolutionary! I’m much more interested in seeing each of you as a revolutionary.

After all, Jesus did his thing 2,000 years ago – but what are we doing? And what have we been doing for the past 1,900 years?

I am reminded of Gandhi’s answer to Howard Thurman in 1935, when Thurman and his wife went to India. Thurman asked Gandhi, “What is the biggest obstacle to Christianity in India?” And Gandhi said, “Christians.” So here we are…

Now this word revolutionary of course has different meanings to different people, and I’d like to give a couple of synonyms for it.

One is prophet. I think that every prophet is disturbing things, that’s the nature of the beast. And the truth is that every one of us is called to be a prophet. We cannot expect Jesus to do it all, or Nelson Mandela to do it all, or Dr. King to do it all. We’re all here to do it in our own fashion.

What is the primary work of the prophet? According to Rabbi Heschel, who both lived it and wrote the classic scholarly work on the prophets, the Number One job of the prophet is to interfere. And that is one reason why prophets do not always win elections or polls.

Another way to talk of this revolutionary dimension to the Jesus teaching and story and person is a phrase I picked up years ago in France about living on the margins – sur la marge. Living on the margin, teaching on the margin – Jesus lived on the margin. He was on the lam for most of his adult life. As Chilton points out, this is why, in the Gospels, first he’s here and then he pops up over here. And of course people who are used to reading comfortable stories ask “Well, how did he get from there to there?” That’s the whole point – you’re not supposed to know! He was running for most of his adult public life.

So the question, “Was Jesus a revolutionary?” is very easy to answer: Yes! That’s it.

So what I want to do first is to talk about ourselves: what are we in revolt about? What are we interfering about, what are we called to interfere about in our times? How are we going about it? Later, I want to get more specifically into the Jesus story, because that is where we get our inspiration, our strength, our modeling.

But I really think it’s important to begin with us, because you can spend a whole lifetime in the first century, studying all these marvelous texts, and just die never having disturbed anyone at all or any of the power forces that need disturbing at this time in history very, very badly.

In other words, we can get wrapped up in Jesus talk, and Jesus studies, and Biblical studies, and never get the point. And that is that we are here to incarnate the justice and compassion that Jesus was about, and all the great ones out of his tradition and so many other traditions really were about.

After all, there was a reason why the Emperor’s man in Jerusalem and Caiaphas the High Priest of the Temple got together to hang this guy – crucify him. There was a reason why – and it was not because he was busy reading a lot of good books and studying the scriptures in pious tones.

He was disturbing the peace, he was interfering. That’s part of the story.

It has been sentimentalized, turned into an “oh, my sins hung Jesus on the cross” kind of thing, but that’s not the story. That’s a distortion of the story that empires since the Roman Empire have all invested in, because that’s how you mute, tamp down, the real story that Jesus, coming out of the prophetic wisdom tradition of Israel, was living, breathing, teaching, and even dying for.

Now, I’ve been in Rome and I’ve seen the catacombs and the burial places of the early Christian martyrs. But the truth is, no one has been martyred in Rome for religion’s sake for 1700 years. So I want to look in my next posts at the injustices that modern prophets are interfering with, and ask – are we waking up and doing what we can do? And if not, how can we begin?


To register for the “Cosmic Christ and Youth: The Occupy Generation,” the next Christ Path Seminar weekend taking place 10/11-13,  featuring Adam Bucko as guest speaker, and based on Matthew Fox’s and Adam Bucko’s groundbreaking book, Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation,  see

To order the complete 12-DVD set of recordings from the first Christ Path Seminar weekend, “Cosmic Christ and the New Humanity”– including Dr. Fox’s delivery of the Saturday afternoon lecture from which this post is clipped, see

Be sure to sign up on the Christ Path Seminar mailing list to receive word when the DVDs from the second weekend, “Cosmic Christ and the Historical Jesus,” are released!

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