I wonder if Jesus had allergies. You know, all those olive trees and blowing dust. I know when my allergies act up I get irritable. Maybe cursing the fig tree and turning over the money changers’ tables was just bad allergies. Maybe the apostles stood back and said to one another, “boy, he’s really upset today!” “Yeah, I think his allergies are bothering him.” “We better find something for that before he gets us all in trouble.”
I enjoy imagining Jesus experiencing some of the same things that I do. It makes him more real and compelling for me. That’s why I enjoy reading books by scholars who weave the social and political aspects of Jesus’ world and ministry into their discussions. I am especially impressed to see how Jesus was so integrated into his culture and world rather than aloof or removed from “worldly things.” And I am much more compelled to follow him as a result.
Such was my reaction to reading “The Last Week” by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. If you think you know well the significance of all the events of Holy Week, this book will rock your spiritual and intellectual security. Using primarily the gospel of Mark, the first Gospel written, “The Last Week” is a chronicle of the activities and experiences of Jesus from Palm Sunday to Easter. As I read the descriptions of these events by these two world-renowned scripture scholars, I found Jesus to be even more real and compelling to me. Given the current situation of our world and our nation, it is also very clear how Jesus is relevant for this time in history as well. It is also very clear to me how the “cooperation” of church and state that has existed since Constantine in the 4th Century has domesticated Jesus and diluted the full meaning of both his words and actions. And how convenient. That domestication seems to support the military, economic, and social activities of many cultures and governments.
In the concluding sections of the book, the authors stress how Jesus was about personal and political transformation driven by his passion for God and God’s kingdom. They also stress that the two go hand in hand. In other words, it is not enough to seek personal transformation and union with God without seeking political transformation in this world as God would have it. In the same way, it is dangerous to seek political transformation without been transformed personally.
In the domesticated version of Holy Week, Jesus comes to Jerusalem because he knows he has to in order to be crucified and die for our sins so that God will forgive us and let us in to heaven and show us how much God loves us. Each event of Holy Week is seen in that light. If, however, we take a broader, more expansive and educated view of these events with a full understanding of the political and social climate in which they unfold, we see, Borg and Crossan tell us, a much deeper and more powerful message in these events. According to the authors, Jesus activities were well thought out and each had a specific message and meaning to convey. He wasn’t swept along by events in a sort of predestined sequence, but rather skillfully chose these activities and words, knowing full well the risk involved. He knew the risk, but his passion for God and God’s kingdom gave him the courage to face that risk. He chose to use a time when Jerusalem would be packed with pilgrims and his message would receive a wide audience as well as a lot of attention from the authorities. I cannot due the book justice by trying to summarize each of the events. But I would strongly suggest you read it. It is out in paperback and available at most bookstores or online. And it doesn’t have to be read just during Holy Week. I guarantee it will have a deep impact on your understanding of Jesus and his message no matter when you read it.
I am grateful to Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan for helping to make Jesus more real and compelling. They portray a Jesus passionate about God and about God’s kingdom, a Jesus who careful planned his words and actions to make powerful social and political statements based on that passion because, I believe, he was teaching that we cannot separate the spiritual from the political. As the authors point out, Jesus was teaching personal and political transformation. I don’t think we are going to hear that very often from our spiritual or political leaders. What Thomas Merton said over 40 years ago rings true today: “Centuries of identification between Christian and civil life have done more to secularize Christianity than to sanctify civil life.”