People are shocked when you say Jesus Christ was one of the greatest revolutionaries the world ever knew. At Christmas we are all ringing bells and singing and, if we can manage the money, feasting. But that is not what he was about.
The country Jesus Christ was born into was seething with indignation. The anger sometimes burst out against its Roman rulers. People wanted to be free. Jesus, the man from Nazareth, many suspected – or hoped – might lead the people against Roman domination. Some of his friends even got to arguing about which of them would be First Minister in this new kingdom he was starting. Poor Judas may not have been a bad character but he wanted Jesus arrested because he thought if he was arrested the people would burst out in revolution. He was and they didn’t. Even his closest friends were so afraid of Roman power that they fled. Faced with executions of the kind the Romans did, who could blame them ?
The Romans and their collaborators had good reason to be afraid too – Jesus was the one man capable of drawing immense crowds himself and getting over seventy volunteers to go the length and breadth of the country carrying his message to thousands more. He was the one man who could challenge the greedy financial centre that important people had made in the Temple, the most sacred place in their country. He upset the financiers who had nested in the Temple and the lawyers who ran the courts, cutting through their arguments about how you could evade or manipulate the law for your own advantage; the man who talked about a new way of life to thousands of people who were prepared to sit down on grass or dash around lakes just to hear him.
It was dangerous talk, about sweeping away the carefully worked out system of borrowing and lending with an impatient “If you’ve got two coats give one away and now let’s talk about something more important...” Refusing to get caught up in the arguments about income tax and religion –“You’ve already made up your minds about how much you owe the Roman taxmen and how much you owe God, but just go now and make sure the mix is right...”
If he’d had his way, the world would be changed, dramatically, radically. But at a cost. He said powerful people would oppose it, so to make the world into what he wanted would split families and parties and whole peoples. As one of his later followers, Paul the craftsman/politician from Tarsus, said, it was like the world was in birth pangs giving birth to a new life, pain like no other pain.
It seems strange now that all this excitement, the amazement, the upheaval of the life and times of this man Jesus is now remembered as, well, just rather nice.
It wasn’t rather nice. It was the working out of an awful tragedy of people offered the choice of a world of wonder or one of personal gain.
We prettified the challenge.
So was the innkeeper really a nice man, he who kindly gave an expectant mother the only roof he had when he was crowded out for the census? And how did the political expectations of Jesus’ followers change from local politics into realisation that decency, courtesy and honesty can survive no matter what kind of regime is imposed on you ?
And what, then, was Jesus Christ really about?