Martin LeFevre: What Went Wrong Jesus?
What Went Wrong Jesus?
Today is Good Friday, the most solemn day in the Christian calendar. On this day believers commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus, seeing it as the ultimate sacrifice and the fulfilment of his mission. Nothing could be further from the truth.
From a mystical point of view, the question is this: Were the crucifixion and supposed resurrection the culminating events of Jesus’ mission, or did things go terribly wrong?
The basic historical facts are not in dispute. Arrested by Jewish authorities and tried before a Jewish court on charges of blasphemy, a Jewish prophet who called on people to radically change was turned over to the Roman governor, Pilate. Initially Pilate could find no fault in Jesus, but the Jewish leaders convinced him to pronounce the death sentence.
Pilate, who was a ruthless repressor of the Palestinian resistance movement, acceded, and Jesus was hung as a rebel between two members of the Jewish resistance movement on the Roman charge of treason. The charge of insurrection, “King of the Jews,” was posted on the cross. Though a lie and a mockery in every sense of the word, it was an example to any who might even think of becoming a rival to Caesar.
To Caiaphas and his Privy Council, Jesus’ ‘blasphemy’ was his implicit, and even explicit indictment of the Jewish/Roman established order. Jesus had a growing following, and warned of the fall and destruction of Jerusalem. That made him dangerous to a complicit Jewish leadership as well as to Roman rule.
Historical ironies abound. Palestine became Israel in the 20th century after a campaign of terrorism by Jewish immigrants, and is now the main client state in the Middle East of another crumbling empire, America, which is waging a ‘global war on terror.’ Violence is, as always, leading to more violence, and factions of resistance in Palestine degenerate into more factions, which serves the status quo of the Israeli oppressors very well.
On the spiritual level, there are a few facts about Jesus in his last days in Jerusalem that point to what really happened. Considered from a contemplative point of view, they yield an insight that is completely at odds with the cornerstone of Christianity—namely, that “Jesus died for our sins.”
First, there was Jesus’ symbolic prophetic declaration in entering Jerusalem, when he rode into town “on a colt, the foal of an ass.” This drew wide attention, because the animal symbolized kingship, though signifying that Jesus was a king of peace.
Contrast that with his later expulsion of moneychangers and sellers from the outer courts of the temple, when Jesus said, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of violent ones” (a more accurate translation than the usual ‘robbers’).
Jesus was attacking the political order of his time and denying the particularity of holiness, proclaiming that the temple, and by implication his teachings, were universal. His act of explosive rebellion brought him fully to the attention of the Jewish and Roman authorities, and led to his death.
From the day of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem to the dark night in the Garden of Gethsemane, something went terribly wrong. All signs were pointing to radical change in the dominant consciousness, but suddenly the people turned on him, and his own disciples abandoned him. He was stripped, beaten, and nailed to a cross of timbers.
Jesus saw that the whole thing had gone wrong, and that’s why he literally sweated blood in Gethsemane. But he also saw things through, and that is his greatness. (If Jesus had known all along that it was integral to his mission to die, he might have anguished, but he would not have sweated blood By the next day, before Pilate, he was calm, and displayed tremendous equanimity.)
By the time “the Passion of Christ” happened, the physical suffering didn’t matter to Jesus. After all, he knew full well that the Romans had killed thousands by crucifixion (5000 at one time from the Spartacus revolt, hung by ropes along the Apian Way, taking days to die).
But Jesus did not understand what went wrong, as his last words on the cross attest: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Even so, he took the failure back on himself.
Christians have a very clever trick for distancing themselves from Jesus and his teachings. They say: ‘He sacrificed his life so we could be cleansed of original sin. He died for our sins.’ But that is simply not so It is a blasphemy, as is the Christian adoration of Jesus as God.
From the externalization of Jesus’ teaching in building a hierarchical church, to the exclusion of women (beginning with the most important disciple, Mary Magdalene), to the absurdity of his physical resurrection, people have continued to pound nails into the body of Christ.
But it isn’t Jesus’ body; it’s ours.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.