The Jesus of my childhood was the Jesus of slave-holders. No one seemed to know that though. The are three key factors of evidence. What the church emphasizes. Who it is that has charge over everything that happens. And what happens when someone not in charge begins reading the gospels.
Jesus for Masters
There is an old joke about two brothers arguing over the last piece of cake. Their mother decides to settle the fight by asking what would Jesus do. Billy says to his younger brother, “Tommy, you be Jesus.” The joke is on the mother. She asked a question that already assumed Jesus would give in to someone stronger. The boys know the message well. The person who was the center of all their Sunday School stories was the ideal slave. Anyone wishing to follow the example of the savior of the world would make the big sacrifice.
Slave-holders made sure this was the gospel message their slaves received. But the weird twist is the slave could act like the meek and mild biblical character who took beatings. The slave could not be cast as the Christ. “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters, according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, as unto Christ. Not with eyeservice as men-pleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart with good will doing service, as to the Lord and not to men.” (Ephesians 6:5-7 KJV) The slave-master is essentially in the place of Christ who is the one really receiving the service. The slave could exhibit a spirit of Jesus but not the Spirit of Christ.
Slave-holder Jesus cares about a few things. All of which are personal matters. How women dressed is important to this Jesus. Women are the weaker vessel and give into temptation too easily. Just look at Eve or Sarah. They erect barriers to protect people especially female people from their own sexuality. This Jesus wants good workers who expect only a heavenly reward. Women are to be good servants but have no authority in Church.
All sins were personal sins. Society is corrupt and sinful but only because every person is. True disciples wrestle with their own sins and perhaps those of the neighbors. But do not ask questions such as why are people not paid better. Slave-holder Jesus died for your personal sins. You are so well-loved that if you were the only sinner, Jesus would still go to the cross for your sins.
Granted some leaders were pacifist. When it was pointed out those leaders did not attack people who disagreed with them, a responder claimed, “That is not a moral issue!” Morality was personal as well.
Jesus in Charge, Really?
Slave-holder Jesus is never in charge. The congregations I was raised in and around were usually run by the people with the most money. It still works that way in many of them. People who spend most of their time running their own businesses. People who sold high and bought low including the labor working for them. Jesus was a craftsman. He was not a small business owner. One could not claim upper-middleclass status for him. I doubt he owned any land. When all of the leaders in the churches fit the description of the rich ruler, they tended to hold onto all their possessions and denigrate shiftless poor people.
Their slave-holder savior values an honest day’s labor for an honest dollar. Anyone asking for help meets suspicion and quizzing about their circumstances.
Someone Asked Questions
If someone reading the gospels naively assumes the leaders of the churches are ignorant of what is in them, will find they know these passages well . When the Christ teaches sell your possessions and give to the poor and to give to anyone requesting something of yours, they would find a very nuanced interpretation that allowed the people in charge to do as they liked.
Anyone asking if the policies regarding how women were treated reflects how Jesus treats women in the gospels hears texts from Paul. When asked about a battered wife leaving an abusive husband and later marrying again, they get Jesus’ words regarding men divorcing their wives cause them to be adulteresses. She cannot divorce an abuser and ever expect to marry again. Is Christ so cruel as to leave a wife and her children defenseless? It does not appear to be what those texts mean.
The Liberator’s Jesus
What do we mean by salvation? Does it not mean liberation from some sort of oppression? Does this salvation free people from their sins but subjects them to the sinfulness of other people? The Hebrew prophets do not see it that way.
Is this salvation for the future and not the present? How will I be able to give whatever I am asked without knowing I will receive what I need unless other people have the same assurance? Liberators following this Jesus are not evangelists who hold revivals and leave because people “got saved.” They make ways for the community to live into liberation.
Jesus the Liberator shows how our personal lives can be experienced without feeling only “guilty pleasures” are real. Jesus the Liberator – the anointed Christ – makes it possible to live the power of eternal love without destroying ourselves in supposed sacrifice. Christ died showing the world how to live out of love for it.