I like to look to Jesus as a model for many things. There are so many ways that I hope to imitate Jesus. I have also said in the past, that I thought Jesus was an asshole. And the reason that I said this was to validate my own behavior. If there was a way that I could take something from the Bible, something Jesus did, and use it to my advantage to justify shitty behavior that I extend to others, I did it. So, if Jesus was an asshole if Jesus called people names, if Jesus threw temper tantrums and tossed tables and threatened money changers with whips, then damn it, so can I. Jesus called a woman a “dog”, then I can call someone a bitch. No big deal.
Except, I know better. I know that calling people names isn’t how you change their hearts. I mean, I have spent countless years trying to teach my children to be mindful and loving with their choice of words. I have been mindful of how I speak about others in front of my children. I want to model a positive way to relate to people. Isn’t that, like, a universal rule? We don’t call people names.
I know that threatening people with table flipping and whipping doesn’t make people suddenly decide that their way of life is wrong. I know that calling someone a hypocrite doesn’t instantly stop their hypocritical behavior. And anyway, who the hell isn’t a hypocrite? I mean, I could argue that Jesus was hypocritical at times. I am not going to do that here.
What I want to present for consideration is this:
Can we do better than Jesus?
Jesus may have indeed been an asshole. People will continue to use this as a justification to be an asshole. But I don’t want to be an asshole and I don’t want to find wiggle room to justify shitty behavior. Assholes are angry. Jesus was angry when he was acting like an asshole. Not everything Jesus did was intended to be reinforced as a way of living. It may have been recorded in the Good Book, but that doesn’t mean that’s a mode of behavior that we are supposed to imitate.
Jesus is a 2,000-year-old model. I don’t know about you, but I know that I must upgrade my phone every few years in order for it to work properly. I am lucky to get 10 years out of a stove anymore. It seems like I replace my dryer every 5 years. In the 40 years of my life, I have had to upgrade my own mindset, and often. Why haven’t we updated our Christ model yet?
I am not suggesting we throw out Jesus altogether. But can we pause for a minute and ask some questions? Jesus may have called out the Pharisees with warnings of hypocritical teaching when addressing the crowds and the disciples (Matthew 23 depicts such an instance). But Jesus also curses a fig tree for no damn good reason. (I side with Bertrand Russel on this idea.) Are we to curse trees? What the hell did the tree do?
As Russel and others have pointed out, Jesus called those who didn’t agree with his style of preaching names and condemned them. If the last four years have shown anything at all, it’s that people don’t really like name-calling, especially if it comes from someone that we expect to have good moral character, unlike the current sitting/impeached President. If we want our national leaders to refrain from name-calling and wouldn’t tolerate the collective diminishing of half the country, why are we tolerating Jesus’ poor behavior then?
It is terribly exhausting having to dance around texts that seem to contradict the Savior’s words, isn’t it? “You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matthew 6:6, NIV)
So, why didn’t Jesus turn the other cheek when the Pharisees pissed him off? Why didn’t Jesus turn the other cheek when the fig tree didn’t bear any fruit—even if it wasn’t fig season, but the leaves clearly showed life?
Do we turn the other cheek, or do we threaten money changers with whips, and insult religious zealots?
Could it be that sometimes, we don’t always practice what we preach? What if that was the point of recording that text? What if it were to show us that not even Jesus was consistent. I mean, he was fully human, and that means fully emotional, reactive, and angry.
I can admit that it sure would feel liberating to call people names, and even to throw shit around without feeling guilty about it. But I know better. Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Jesus was doing the best he could until he could do better. Maybe that’s why it seems as if he contradicts himself throughout the Gospel accounts. But, like Walt Whitman once wrote, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” Grace for contradiction.
Still, I value much of the orthopraxy from the Gospels. That is why I know that love is always the answer to everything. As the Apostle Paul elegantly conveys, “love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered. It keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV)
While Jesus was throwing tables, he was angry. At that moment, he was not loving. It’s not an epic failure or anything. But it does leave room for a different view.
When Jesus was calling people “broods of vipers,” he wasn’t honoring anyone—he wasn’t speaking from a place of love. So, maybe this means, see, Jesus said some foul shit, and look at what it did—nothing at all! Meaning, yeah, he called them names but what changed for those people that he insulted? It seems like not a damn thing, considering he was still crucified.
I am open to a new model, or at the very least, an upgrade to the model we continue to use. In 2,000 years, we have evolved our way of thinking. We know that certain behaviors and actions just aren’t helpful to already volatile situations. And we also know that people lose their cool from time to time. It doesn’t make them horrible people; it just means they are human. Jesus was human. We are divine. It is entirely plausible that we can go on to do greater things than Jesus. We can be more loving than Jesus. More patient, kinder, and far less angry.
We can do better than Jesus.