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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Revolutionary Jesus v Empire & Religion (an Easter Tale)

Easter is obviously one of the crucial events for Christians as it commemorates the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus was crucified as an atonement for all sins committed by mankind.

As background, in the Old Testament, God required an animal sacrifice as atonement for sin, usually this was the sacrifice of a lamb without spot or blemish.  In the New Testament, Jesus as the son of man and God, becomes this sacrifice, hence Him being called the Lamb of God.  However, He wasn't just required to die, he was required to live.  According to the bible, Jesus conquered death and hell, through his resurrection on the third day, enabling Christians to enter into heaven and eternal life.

Jesus had managed to upset the religious leaders of the day.  He was heavily critical of the Pharisees and Sadduccees for their hypocrisy, for their love of money and for making overt displays of their wealth.   At one stage, Jesus stormed into the temple and threw out the money-changers and others who were defiling the temple by turning it into a place of business.

Jesus was arrested by Temple guards at the direction of the Supreme Court of Israel, the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin were Jews, not Romans. It was the Sanhedrin who sentenced Jesus to death.  After sentencing, Jesus was paraded before the Roman Prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate, who stated that he could see no crime that Jesus had committed.  Around the same time, a man named Jesus Barabbas was arrested for sedition.  As it was Passover, the custom was for one prisoner to be released based on the wishes of the local Jews.  When given the choice of Jesus or Barabbas, the crowd chose Barabbas.  Pontius Pilate did not agree with the execution of Jesus and washed his hands of responsibility as he gave the crowd what they wanted.

Interestingly, Jesus and Barabbas were both revolutionaries, they both shared the same first name and even Barabbas's surname reflected one of the names of Jesus.  Barabbas literally translates as "Son of the Father" (bar = son of, abba = Father).   Yet, Jesus was the one who had opposed the religious leaders, while Barabbas had opposed the Roman Empire.

The crowd chose Barabbas, perhaps because he was seen as leading them from under the yoke of Roman Imperialism, while they welcomed the yoke and hypocrisy of religious fundamentalism as it was used by the priests to manipulate their thoughts, fears and lives.

There is an old saying that "those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it".

In Jesus's day, the religious leaders had influenced the ruling council, the Sanhedrin in order to arrest Jesus and stop the undermining of their authority.

Today we see the rise of religious fundamentalism as it influences the highest levels of government and seeks to tear down those who dare undermine the influence of its powerful religious leaders.  Religious fundamentalism supports "smaller government" and yet demands government intervention through the banning of abortion, homosexuality and non-Christian religions (in particular, Islam).  Religious fundamentalists tend to be pro-gun, pro-war, pro-big business and against public expenditure on health, education and welfare. Their churches have been turned into large commercial enterprises.  In fact, much of religious fundamentalism is opposed to almost everything that Christ stood for.

Jesus commanded us to love God, to love our neighbour, to turn the other cheek when persecuted, to forgive our enemies, to live in peace with everyone, to give up material possessions and share our wealth, to care for the poor, the homeless, the orphan, the refugee.  Jesus passed little judgement on the government; in fact, he stated that we should "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's".  Jesus directed his judgement at the organised religion of the day.

Were Jesus to have lived during the 21st century, he would have criticised the religious hypocrisy of the day, the rise of the mega-church and the franchising of religion.   Many Christian fundamentalists are critical of the Catholic Church and its wealth, yet the empire that is Christianity is worth billions in retail sales, while churches are run as businesses, reliant on their balance sheets and profit and loss statements.

Modern Christianity more closely resembles the behaviour of the Pharisees and Sadducees than it does the teachings and example set by Jesus Christ.

If Jesus was born in recent times, there would be no shortage of people choosing to crucify Him in place of a modern day Barabbas.

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