A common technique for opinion writers is to pose a question in the title of their articles, and then spoon-feed the answer to their readers. This isn’t one of those articles. I ask the question of whether Jesus would be on the streets with the Occupy Wall Street protestors because a.) I think it’s a question worth asking b.) I don’t know the answer and c.) I genuinely would like to hear what other people think on the matter.
First, a disclaimer: I realize the question What-Would-Jesus-Do is a controversial one. Not everybody accepts the premise that we can know with certainty what Jesus would do in hypothetical situations today. It’s also true that all of us are unique. The way that Jesus might life his life through one person might be different than how he might live his life through another. Still, as followers of Jesus, I think it helps from time to time to evaluate our actions based on the model of Jesus, and the best way to tackle the question of what would Jesus do is to ask what did Jesus do.
That’s where things get tricky.
An argument for why Jesus might be out on the streets today joining the protesters is that Jesus was an activist for the poor in his day. When Jesus cleansed the temple, he wasn’t merely performing a religious act. The cleansing of the temple was highly political. The temple was the seat of religious, economic, and political power for Jews in Jesus’ day. Jesus was mad as hell at the fleecing of the poor by the moneychangers and the exclusion of the Gentiles (read: economic injustice and institutionalized racism). Had newspapers been around back then, Jesus would have landed on the front page of the Jerusalem Times, and the editorialists would have lambasted him for disorderly conduct. Jesus literally threw people out of the temple, destroyed tables, and prevented people from carrying goods through the temple (Mark 11: 15-16). What would Fox News and CNN call that today? At the very least, they would label him an activist, or probably something worse.
Then there’s Zacchaeus.
First century Jews would have thought of Zacchaeus in much the same way as a lot of people today think of Wall Street executives and hedge fund managers. Zacchaeus was a chief among the tax collectors, and a very rich man. He obtained his wealth by collaborating with the imperialist Roman occupiers at the expense of his own people. He benefited from a system that lavished an exorbitant amount of wealth on a few at the expense of everyone else. And how did Jesus treat him? Jesus never camped outside his office in an effort to shame him. Instead he invites himself over for dinner. By extending his hand of friendship to Zacchaeus, Jesus did the opposite of what the crowd wanted him to do. The crowd couldn’t get over the fact that Jesus was going to eat in the home of “a sinner.” They were so focused on Zacchaeus’s sins; they forgot that they were sinners too.
As I read the blogs and watch the news about what’s happening in New York and around the country, I can’t help but wonder: If Jesus were walking the streets of New York today, would he be a rabble-rouser activist like he was at the temple, or would he walk up to the CEO of Goldman Sachs and give him a hug? I don’t see how a person can be an angry activist and a friend of aristocrats at the same time, but that’s just me. Regardless of where you land on this matter, here’s a sentiment I think we can all agree with:
Just when I think I have Jesus figured out, he throws another curveball.