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Jesus A Rebel

Jesus A Rebel

Terming Jesus a rebel could be a shock to the millions of devotees who have been indoctrinated that Jesus was obedient unto death and a threat to the authorities who are terribly afraid of any dissent or protest. Not only Jesus but also all prophets of the Old Testament and the modern day prophets were rebels. Addressing the participants of a workshop on the theme ‘De-sensitizing Caste and Building Inclusive Societies Based on Indian Constitution’ in Chennai on February 17, Antoniraj SJ said that the Consecrated women and men in the Church are called to be rebels against injustice and oppression in the Church as well as in the society. “For rebellion only one person is needed but a revolution needs a crowd,” he said. According to him rebellion is not for destruction but for life giving and life promoting. 

Quoting profusely from the Gospels, Anthoniraj asserted that Jesus was a rebel. The rebellion started with the Song of Praise by Mary, mother of Jesus, when Jesus was in the womb of Mary. Mary predicted the upheaval that would take place in the society as a result of the life and teachings of Jesus. “He has stretched out his mighty arm and scattered the proud with all their plans. He has brought down mighty kings from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away with empty hands”. (Lk. 1: 51-53)

Jesus was rebelling when he broke those laws, customs and rituals which were oppressive, exploitative and hence not promoting life. By healing the sick on the Sabbath day he violated the Sabbath law as misinterpreted by the Scribes and Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders. By declaring that Sabbath is for man and not man for Sabbath he enunciated the eternal principle that the purpose of any law should be human well-being and not suppression of human freedom. He had the audacity to enter Jerusalem temple and cleanse it of the traders who indulged in buying and selling and converted the house of prayer into a “den of robbers”. (Mt.21:12-13) Jesus was, in fact, rebelling against commercialization of religion, using God and religion for amassing money, a tendency that is gaining momentum in all religions in India, including the Catholic Church.

The whole teaching of Jesus, particularly the Sermon on the Mount, was rebellious in nature; they were totally different from what was taught by the religious leaders of his time. Washing the feat of his disciples was a rebellious act of proving his own statement, “the son of man has come not be served, but to serve”.  Unfortunately the modern day representatives of Jesus and leaders in the Church try to dominate and control people instead of being at their service in humility and generosity. Jesus summarized hundreds of laws of the Jews into one law, “love one another as I have loved you”. Thus he perfected the law.

Jesus rebelled against the Scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of his community for misleading and exploiting the people under their care in the name of God and religion. The Gospel of Mathew chapter 23 verses 1 to 28 is a castigation of the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, hunger for power and positions, lack of integrity, ritualism and legalism and oppression of the people. The rebellion of Jesus against the Scribes and Pharisees is a serious warning to the present leaders in the Church. If Jesus were alive today what he would have told about the leaders in the Church?

Jesus’ death on a cross outside Jerusalem as a criminal was the consequence of his rebellious actions and teachings. The Sanhedrin, the highest decision making body of Jewish religious leaders, accused Jesus of subversion. Bowing down to the demand of the crowd who were manipulated by the religious leaders, Pilot handed over Jesus to be crucified and released Barabbas, who was convicted for indulging in violence against the Roman rule. Jesus was a rebel without a shred of violence; yet he was convicted as a criminal and a criminal was set free. Many those who stood up against injustice and rebelled had the same fate as that of Jesus.

The early Christian community rebelled against the existing social and economic norms and pooled together all their resources and each one received according to his/her need. (Act 2: 44-45) They proclaimed publically that Jesus and his teachings were the reasons for their new way of life. One of the reasons for their persecution was their new way of life based on the teachings of Jesus and it was a challenge to the rulers and the dominant classes in the society.

When Christianity was accepted the official religion of the Roman Empire, Jesus the rebel was converted into a King and the leaders of Christian religion assumed the role of kings and princes. The honorific titles the cardinals, bishops and Archbishops carry even today are the results of the distortion that took place in the Church at the time Emperor Constantine.  Hierarchy, which is diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus, became the unquestionable dogma and obedience of the faithful was placed at the centre of Christian faith. The consequence was disastrous. Anyone who dissented with the official teachings of the Church was not only excommunicated but was brutally killed and sometimes burnt alive as a heretic. Lack of dissent and rebellion made the Church corrupt and autocratic in the Middle Ages. Stifling dissent is a sure route to autocracy and dictatorship in any organization.

The Second Vatican Council, a watershed in the history of the Catholic Church, was initiated by the saintly Pope John XXIII in view of the renewal of the Church by opening the closed windows and allowing fresh air (thoughts) enter into the Church; but the rebellious voices from within the Church and in the world by secular thinkers also contributed directly or indirectly to the renewal unleashed by the Second Vatican Council. Karl Rahner's theology of the universality of grace, Yves Congar's forward looking view on the laity, Edward Schillebeeckx' understanding of sacramentality, Hans Kung's historical view of the Church in modern times, John Courtney Murray's landmark work in religious liberty, and the views of Bernard Haring in moral theology, Henri de Lubac in history, Charles Davis in ecclesiology, George Higgins in social theology, and Gregory Baum in revelation played key roles in the development of Church thinking. The theories and views of scientists and secular thinkers like Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Nietzsche, Charles Darwin, Soren Kierkegaard, and Martin Heidegger etc. challenged the teachings of the Church and thereby indirectly impacted the decrees of the Second Vatican Council. (Ref. Seven Factors That Gave Rise to Vatican II by Bill Huebsch, Factors%20giving%20 rise%20to%20 Vatican%20II.pdf )

The space for freedom of thought and dissent allowed by the Second Vatican Council began to shrink gradually in the years that followed the Council and an undeclared inquisition was imposed on liberal theological thinking during the last years of Pope John Paul II. Discussion on the issues like women’s ordination, contraception, homosexuality etc. was disallowed. Ultra conservative organizations like Opus Dei were allowed to come to the centre stage and control the thought process within the Church. The result has been death of liberal thinking and disappearance of rebellion within the Church.

Fortunately, Pope Francis has been echoing the rebellion of Jesus in the Catholic Church ever since his election. Within a few months after his election he made a surprising statement, “ I believe in God - not in a Catholic God; there is no Catholic God. There is God, and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being.” His statement is totally different from the traditional views that the Catholic Church is the only repository of truth. On another occasion he said, “Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal 'security,' those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists - they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies”.
In an atmosphere exclusion when right wing parties in Europe and America are following a policy of denying entry to refugees to their countries Pope Francis said on February 21, “ Indifference, fuelled by populist rhetoric in today's world, fans the flames of rejection that threaten the rights and dignity of migrants”. He also said, "Faced with this kind of rejection, rooted ultimately in self-centeredness and amplified by populist demagoguery, what is needed is a change of attitude to overcome indifference and to counter fears with a generous approach of welcoming those who knock at our doors".   The Pope was rebelling against arrogance and insensitivity of the right wing leaders of the West. But Pope Francis has to struggle with the arch conservatives in the Vatican curia and the fundamentalist elements within the Church that are bent upon spreading superstitions and blind faith among the Christians. 

Throughout the history of the Catholic Church the rebellious spirit of Jesus Christ has been kept alive, although sometimes it becomes very feeble, and this rebellion makes the Church vibrant and relevant to the modern world. During the dark ages of the Church saints like Francis Assisi and the Religious Congregations they started kept up the rebellious spirit within the Church. Gradually most of the Religious Congregations became subservient to the hierarchy. Today the hierarchy makes use of all possible means to control the Religious congregations. Most of the Religious congregations also have lost their prophetic spirit and hence the capacity to rebel and withstand the efforts of the hierarchy to dominate. The façade of evangelization is used by the hierarchy in India to bring the Religious congregations under its control; the main motive force appears to be power and money.

Jesus has said, “You are like salt for all mankind. But if salt loses its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again. It has become worthless, so it is thrown out and people will trample on it”. This statement of Jesus is very much applicable to the individual Religious women and men and the religious congregations that lose the spirit of rebellion of Jesus of Nazareth. The dwindling of vocations to Religious life is an indication of their irrelevance. Reverting to the pre-Second Vatican II practices, which are promoted by some fundamentalist charismatic preachers, will not save religious life in India. Recapturing the prophetic spirit and rebellious nature of Jesus of Nazareth only can make religious life relevant and vibrant today.

#(Published on 20th March 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 12)