Jul 13, 2022
At this point, Jesus could probably have saved himself a lot of trouble with a simple, “I’m really, really sorry for what I’ve done, and I promise I won’t ever do it again," but that’s not what happened!
He was born outdoors, in a stable in fact. His crib was a manger used to feed the sheep and oxen who shared the stable with him. His first house guests were a group of local shepherds.
In those days, shepherds were society’s lowest wageworkers – typically they were a mix of older men and tween age boys, both of whom would have had trouble finding jobs anywhere else.
Fortunately, though, Jesus also had friends in high places. Three Kings from neighboring countries (the Magi or Wise Men, as they’re called) visited and left valuable gifts of gold, incense, and medicine with his parents.
Good thing because by the age of 2, Jesus had become a refugee, fleeing political persecution, seeking sanctuary in Egypt.
Word of the Kings’ visit reached Herod, the local King, who feared that Jesus might one day challenge him and his sons for their throne. Accordingly, he ordered the slaughter of all boys in the area who were under the age of 2. Jesus’ parents smuggled him out of the country just in time!
We don’t know for sure, but I suspect Joseph and Mary might have traded the Magi’s expensive gifts for the necessities of life, and maybe even for safe passage, during their dangerous journey.
Unfortunately, we're not very knowledgeable about the rest of Jesus’ early childhood; but we do know that he ran away from home at the age of 12 and was missing for at least a couple of days.
When his frantic parents finally tracked him down, he wasn’t the least bit sorry. In fact, he skillfully tried to flip the script, “Why were you looking for me?” As if Mary and Joseph were at fault! As if any loving parent wouldn’t search for a missing 12-year-old!
The next time we see Jesus, he’s with his mother at a wedding feast. He’s probably in his 20s now. She asks him for a favor, “Our hosts have run out of wine, can you help them out?” Jesus turns her down flat…and with a bit of old-fashioned attitude to boot! Later, though, he reconsiders and does what his mother had asked.
After that, Jesus left home for good and headed off into the desert for 40 days. When he returned, he showed up for Saturday services at a local synagogue and promptly introduced himself as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, “Today these scriptures are fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
To the ears of his fellow worshipers, this was blasphemy.
Worse even than that, Jesus proclaimed “an acceptable year.” (Like 4:19) By that he meant a Jubilee. Now in Israel, a Jubilee comes around only once every 50 years…but when it does come around, it’s a very big deal!
When the Israelites first came to Canaan, the land promised to them by God, they divided all the land among themselves, following God’s instructions. Every household got its own plot, and every plot was of equal value!
Then, with the passage of time, some families grew richer, others poorer. To even things out, once every 50 years, everyone would return to the plot of land that was originally given to their family. This was Jubilee!
Jubilee is a giant do-over. Suddenly, the rich get poorer and the poor get richer. Wait, that’s wrong! Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? Don’t people say, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer?” Maybe so, but Jubilee is one great exception to that rule.
Now picture yourself as a worshiper in that local synagogue. Perhaps you haven’t seen Jesus for years; perhaps you remember him only as a rebellious teenager. On the other hand, you do know his parents, the devoted Mary and her hard-working husband, Joseph, the local carpenter.
In walks Jesus, Joseph’s son (stepson), and immediately he proclaims himself to be the Messiah promised by God over 1,000 years earlier; and as if that weren’t bad enough, he also declares the immediate start of a new Jubilee year.
Many of the families worshiping in that synagogue were undoubtedly well-to-do by the standards of the day. Then Jesus walks in and tells them that their wealth is about to be divided equally among all the Israelites. How do you suppose they felt about that?
Imagine you’re used to getting a $10 allowance and your parents suddenly inform you that from now on, you’ll have to make do with $2; you probably wouldn’t be too pleased. Neither were the folks worshiping in that synagogue that day!
Moments later, we see Jesus, running for his life, the whole congregation chasing after him, hoping to throw him off a cliff. Fortunately, he escapes; but now he’s all alone, no friends, no place to live, nowhere to call home.
What to do? First, Jesus recruited the 12 men and boys who would later be known as his “Apostles”; together they formed a sort of ‘guerilla gang.’ They travelled from town to town, challenging the powerful and performing good deeds. Along the way, they taught a new religion (actually, a new interpretation of their old religion) based on love and mercy rather than on sin and judgment.
Three years later, Jesus and his crew arrived in the capital city, Jerusalem, the center of all power in Israel. Along the road, they were met by people waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna!,” the traditional welcome for a king.
Jesus entered the huge temple compound and immediately knocked over the money changers’ tables and drove into the street those selling doves for ritual sacrifice.
By now, the day’s cops (Roman soldiers and the Temple guard) were hot on Jesus’ trail. A few days later, Jesus and his apostles gathered secretly in the upper room of a friend’s house to share their last meal together. Hours later, Jesus was arrested while praying in a near-by garden.
Over the next 18 hours, Jesus was tried in front of both Jewish and Roman magistrates. He refused to plead guilty to any crime, and he refused to beg for mercy. For the most part, he remained silent when questioned.
Along the way, he received ferocious beatings. They didn’t break his spirit, he didn’t change his behavior, and most importantly, he didn’t change his story!
Finally, Jesus came before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the region. Pilate was the ultimate authority, the true decision maker. He held the power of life and death in his hands.
Somewhat surprisingly, though, Pilate was intrigued by Jesus. Perhaps he admired his courage, perhaps he was secretly attracted to some of Jesus’ ideas. At any rate, Pilate had no interest in executing Jesus, but he was under enormous pressure from local religious leaders and from his bosses in Rome to do exactly that.
At this point, Jesus could probably have saved himself a lot of trouble with a simple, “I’m really, really sorry for what I’ve done, and I promise I won’t ever do it again”; but that’s not what happened! Pilate asked Jesus, point-blank, “Are you a king?” and Jesus sealed his fate by answering, “You say that I am.”
In the end, Pilate sentenced Jesus to the cruelest, most humiliating punishment known to Roman law: crucifixion. Even then, Jesus forgave all those involved in this gross miscarriage of justice: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Yup, Jesus is badass, no doubt!
David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.