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.