Jesus was a revolutionary. He was explosive, countercultural and unafraid to rock the boat. Jesus was beyond religion; he was seeking a revolution of heart and because of this was considered extremely dangerous, not only to Rome but to his own people; the people of Israel. His very being threatened those in power. Sadly, Jesus was trapped in the confines of his time and yet his heart was timeless, and so much bigger than anyone could comprehend. This is why Jesus still speaks to us today, in profound ways.
Western Civilization and our lives, whether we know it or not, have been shaped in some way by the legacy of an impoverished itinerant teacher. Nevertheless, we are out of touch with what it was like in Jesus’s day and the genesis of the Cultural Revolution that sprang from the life of one man. To comprehend the magnitude of Jesus’s life, we need to understand the culture, traditions and social sentiments that he was up against, in his struggle to bring God’s love to humanity.
You can’t really understand someone’s words unless you take into consideration who they are speaking to. A doctor would speak differently when addressing a parent and a child. If we want to fully comprehend the words of Jesus we have to understand the people he was talking to.
Jewish society was a culture shaped by the Torah, as well as other texts and Holy Scriptures. They didn’t just rely on the teachings that we now know as the Old Testament. They also referred to the instruction of various Rabbis and scholars. It was a society where people quoted scripture to frame everyday conversations. You can see this in Jesus’ words where he relies heavily on the teachings of the prophets. Nevertheless, he was bringing something new, which is why his speech was populated with:
“You have heard it said…, but I say…”
Jesus spoke the language of the people using parables that had incredible power, not only because they were relevant to matters of the heart, but because he spoke with authority. He spoke about real life.
What he had to say was extremely threatening to the powers that be, and so there was a concerted effort to trap Jesus in theological diatribe, so that the Jewish leadership could squash this increasingly popular and threatening Rabbi.
You may recall one instance; Jesus was invited to the house of an influential Pharisee. It was an invitation, but not an invitation. You know what that feels like. You are welcomed but not really. Jesus arrives and instead of the usual greeting from a slave holding a bowl of water to wash his feet, and a kiss on the cheek from the host; Jesus was unceremoniously allowed into the room. Awkward!
Jesus was careful, as he must always be, but uncompromising in his position. A test has been arranged; a woman is present. We don’t know much about her except that she was deemed immoral in some way. She heard that Jesus would be eating at a Pharisee’s home and prepared a jar filled with perfume.
It was either an accident that she was present or she was a plant for nefarious means. Do you think the high ranking leaders allowed women of low rank into their banquets on a regular basis? It was a set-up. We can learn two things from this; first of all, Jesus was very popular. People followed him on some kind of ancient Twitter to know his whereabouts. Secondly, this woman spent 300 dinars or a year’s wages, according to Biblical scholars, to buy perfume.
This meeting was no accident. You can read the whole story in Luke 7:36-50 or any of the Gospels. Whether you are a believer or not, something momentous happened that day.
A skeptical mind
The Pharisee thinks to himself when he sees the woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears that this man can’t possibly be a prophet because no self-respecting holy man would allow such “unclean” contact. Think exacting religious laws!
Jesus picks up on his thoughts and cleverly counters with a parable:
“A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”
Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”
“That’s right,” Jesus said. Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.”
“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man that he goes around forgiving sins?”
And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Why was this act so much of a threat? People asked, “Who is this man that he goes around forgiving sins?” The answer lies in the economy of power and wealth that fueled the Temple.
Jesus was a threat because he was a radical. Those in power realized he challenged the status quo. Sacrifices and pilgrimages to the Temple were a required rite to absolve oneself of sin. The priests of the 20 acre Temple were, on the one hand revered, and on the other hand criticized for their excesses and corruption. There was a love/hate relationship with the leadership of the Temple.
To make an acceptable offering an Israelite had to offer an animal without blemish and the only way to get one was to purchase it at the Temple. To buy an animal meant changing your local currency into Shekels, which the Temple conveniently made available, at high exchange rates.
A little industry surrounded the making of offerings and then along comes this man who offers forgiveness of sins for free! Jesus only asked for a pure heart. For an impoverished, oppressed people this was liberating! Understanding the economy of salvific rites makes the indignant Jesus in the Temple, overthrowing the money lenders’ tables all the more understandable.
Jesus didn’t have to die to forgive sins. It’s a rarely spoken fact and little known truth that Jesus had the power on earth to forgive people’s sins and did so many times in the course of his ministry, based on the offering of heart of the person he forgave. His purpose was to bring about a revolution of heart in his lifetime.
Ironically, he was crucified because too many feared he wanted to become Israel’s next King. But Jesus had a different kind of Kingdom in mind. His approach to winning Israel and Rome was patterned after Jacob’s victory over Esau. Contrary to popular notions of the day, a Messianic victory didn’t have to be won with an army.
What made Jesus so attractive in his day? In the small towns around his birthplace and in local bigger cities of 40,000 or more, his name was becoming known. Large groups showed up to hear him speak. He held an authentic authority. People asked, “Who is this Rabbi?”
Jesus’ simple but rigorous teaching (remember the eye of the needle and the camel) exploded the boundaries of the Torah, which governed just about every aspect of Jewish life from how to dress, to how to raise and cook food, and make special offerings, outlined in more than 630 laws. It was complicated!
In contrast, Jesus was straightforward; be humble, don’t judge and your heart can be cleansed. Think of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13.) that is as relevant today, as on the day it was spoken for the first time. It’s not a labyrinth of rules; its words, if uttered over and over become seeds of change – a revolution of heart in the making. I didn’t have to look it up. I remember it from my childhood. It’s part of the collective memory of so many people. You probably know the words and see them reflected in these statements:
- Recognize God – Our Father who art in Heaven
- Respect God and seek to make a relationship with Him – Hallowed be thy name
- Search for what God wants – a world of truth, beauty and goodness for all people – Thy Kingdom come
- Solve the world’s problems, so the world can reflect Heaven – On earth, as it is in Heaven
- See how God does take care of your daily needs – Give us this day, our daily bread
- Be humble ask for forgiveness for your mistakes – And forgive us our trespasses
- As you forgive others – As we forgive those who trespass against us
- Try not to get distracted by things that don’t matter – Lead us not into temptation
- Give up false power and recognize the origin and true owner of love – For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory
- Never give up on the ideal! – For ever and ever, Amen
This simple prayer has been the bedrock of Christian life for 2,000 years. Who would have thought an illegitimate, itinerant teacher would create such lasting impact? He truly knew the heart of God. This is the greatest miracle of all.
To understand the heart of God was a tremendous burden for Jesus. Reverend Sun Myung Moon was intimately connected in heart with Jesus, having been called by him on Easter morning 1936 to share in his mission. Father Moon later reflected:
“History and the world will not be ruled by the experts of theology or philosophy, but by the experts of God’s heart. Jesus was the first to understand the heart of God in 4,000 years from Adam’s fall…It is lamentable that today, there are no saints who understand Jesus’ heart as deeply as Jesus understood God’s heart. Can you imagine how the heart of God has been, who has toiled for 6,000 years in wordless hardship?”
No-one fully grasped who Jesus was. He had a special gift for the people of Israel. God is trying to give us a gift and we have no idea how to respond. God wanted to liberate the people of Israel and all of his children through Jesus but they couldn’t understand. Not only that, this gift challenged the status quo; specifically the wealth and power of those in charge. For many, it was an unwanted gift.
History is still calling us to the revolution of heart that Jesus gave his life for. Jesus didn’t just give us a prayer or a list of “do’s.” He gave us the means to fulfill that prayer. His whole ministry and message shows us that our power comes through becoming part of this revolution.
Father Moon shared in 1973 that he saw the possibility for great change in United States. He spoke of “a new revolution coming to America-not by fire, not by bullets, but by God’s truth kindling a revolution of men’s hearts. “
“I have come here to ignite this spiritual revolution. I don’t need to demonstrate in front of the White House or in Lafayette Square. The answer does not lie there, but in the hearts of men, in the quiet revolution from selfishness to unselfishness.
Can you imagine how wonderful the ideal society will be? Individuals will belong to their families, the family will belong to the society, the society will belong to the nation, the nation will belong to the world, the world will belong to God, and God will belong to you. He who gives the most will know God most deeply.”
Jesus came to increase the dose of love
Jesus told us the solution to all our problems is to love God with all your heart and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself, or as Jesus has loved you. The woman washing Jesus’s feet with her hair was saved by love.
The trouble is we have a tendency to let go of love before God has time to work. We lose hope and are not sure how much love to give. A quote from Collective Evolution has a fitting solution to this problem.
A physician once said, “The best medicine for humans is love.” Someone asked, “What if that doesn’t work?” He smiled and said, “Increase the dose.”
Jesus came to increase the dose of love in the world. Because of that he upset a lot of people. Tragically, the people were more comfortable with rules and their version of justice, rather than the teachings of a penniless, itinerant teacher. He challenged them with the notion that salvation was possible for all, regardless of social and net worth.
Jesus flouted convention and taught ideas that were new and different. He was incredibly dangerous because he could free people from the yoke of their oppressors. Perhaps, the biggest threat of all was that he was able to understand and embody God’s heart.