Following is an article I wrote about the "Glorious Rebel" last Good Friday in a Bangalore-based national English daily.
WHY WAS THE 'REBEL FROM NAZARETH' CRUCIFIED? By P.N.BENJAMIN
Jesus was a carpenter who at thirty had suddenly burst upon the national stage in Palestine as the very embodiment of an oppressed people's liberator. That was nearly two thousand years ago. Like rain on parched ground, the poor soaked in all he said and did. The hungry saw in him who would share with them the last crust of bread. To the homeless he was the most homeless of all. Referring to himself, he once said: "Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head". He preached compassion but knew it was costly. He would touch a leper forced out of the village. He would disclose to a prostitute grieving over her fallen state the encompassing love of God which could raise her to a woman's rightful place in the world.
One day, this unconventional man from Nazareth was found talking to a Dalit woman. A woman? Believe it or not, Jews never spoke to women. And even his disciples were shocked at his atrocious behaviour. Added to it, the woman had had five husbands. To top it all, he asked her for a drink of water. As bad as the fellow in 'Samaskara", a Brahmin asking a Dalit for water from an outcast well.
When Jesus comes upon the woman to be stoned for adultery, he says, "Let the one without sin be the first to cast the stone."
The Jews despised the Samaritans, somewhat like the way Dalits are despised in our country or the Blacks in the US. But Jesus was always telling them stories about how much better as human beings the Samaritans were. When the traveller fell among thieves the priest and the upper-castes passed him by, but the Dalit (the Samaritan) bound his wounds and took him to an inn. Ten lepers were healed. Only one returned to give thanks to God and he was a Dalit! Jesus opposed the culture of violence in his time with an inner peace and a startling love of his enemies. His command to love our enemies is a daring proposal that has radical implications. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said: "Love for our enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of the world." Sadly enough, Christians have not deigned to live by this ethic.
Jesus was "the revolutionary face of the God of nonviolence". When he tells his disciple, Peter, to put his sword back, he is making it clear that he expects his followers not to give in to the culture of violence and the path of revenge.
Jesus was a daredevil and used pretty strong language when it came to telling the priests and leaders where to get off. He even called them "whited sepulchres" (isn't that a lovely phrase?). Yes, he was a troublemaker for the religious elite and the rulers of his time. His life was a continuous struggle with the powers-that-be, whether religious or political. The challenges he posed before the authority came out clearly in his cleansing the Temple. He drove out the buyers and sellers and overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. He accused the authorities of reducing what was meant to be a house of prayer into a den of thieves. In other words, using religion as a means of exploiting the people.
In the Temple, Caiaphas was the high priest. Generations of plotting and the disappearance of Jewish monarchy had led to piling up of power in his hands, making him pre-eminent. Wasn't it preposterous that Jesus should describe the Temple as a "cave of robbers"? Was he not ridiculing Caiaphas? Such a direct attack was bound to provoke a counter attack from the guardians of the temple. Hence, their question: "By what authority are you doing these things?" Power when threatened, always ends in violence.
In another way too, Jesus posed a threat to the political powers of the chief priest. Equally subversive was his radical criticism of the Jewish Law. And in a society in which religious and political power legitimised each other, any attack on the first was also an attack on the second. The priests formed the core of support to the Roman rule. Any threat therefore to the authority of the Jewish State would have acted against the interests of Rome. And we have seen that both the teachings and practices of Jesus condemned the Jewish authorities.
No wonder, all the political forces in Palestine had an interest in getting rid of the young 'rebel' from Nazareth. They waited around corners to slosh him on the head. Finally they got him crucified. His real crime was simply that he spoke the truth that exposed men who, in the name of institutional religion, wielded power without moral sanction and also threatened the very foundation of their system of power, privilege and profit. Truth is intolerable even to this day to all forms of authority, especially the priestly class.
Replying to this email will send an e-mail to 11000+ members of Jharkhand Forum