It’s romantic, in a way, to think of Jesus 2000 years ago alone and wandering from village to village, performing great miracles. Children would look up at him with wide eyes, women would fall to his feet and thank him, and the ever present Twelve would stand around and be amazed at what their Lord could do.
However, that’s really not how it went down at all.
We know from various accounts that Jesus sometimes had to be talked into performing a miracle, that he didn’t really like Samaritans on principle, and that sometimes he was run off, fearing for his life.
He also wasn’t alone in his power and his majesty.
So, Let’s rewind. Jesus is the Son of God, the second of the triune Godhead (Creator, Savior, and Ghost). All power that he possesses comes from God and in that he is certainly singular. But that doesn’t mean that he was alone in his ability to heal. All power may come from God, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t share his gifts.
After all — thirteen men (Jesus plus the Twelve) healing can cover a lot more ground than just one, even if Jesus is the Son of God.
The Historical Jesus and His Prejudices
Centuries upon centuries after Jesus walked the earth, we have a rather idealized view of him. The song “Seeing the World Through Rose Coloured Glasses” (or “La Vie En Rose”) comes to mind.
We know for a fact that Jesus came for everyone. He didn’t discriminate. He had a message. No one was too low, too high, too perfect, or too spiritually broken for him not to pay attention.
… And that was true to a certain extent.
But what we must first remember is that Jesus was both fully divine and fully human. And, as fully human, he had all the prejudices of the day fed to him from an early age. As such, he had to grow out of them a bit, learn that his initial thought of coming just to the Chosen People may not be the only or even the best way…
What Jesus Thought His Message Was
2000 years ago, something unprecedented happened. God was born into the body of an infant. He had a mother, all of a sudden, a father. He had a social position, a culture, a framework. Jesus knew he had a calling. He was aware of this, but he was working within an old, tired, and rather prejudiced framework.
In the Hebrew Bible (or what we, as Christians, call the Old Testament) God chose the People of Israel to be his Chosen People. They were special. They were the only ones truly worthy. Everyone else was inferior.
How were they inferior? Oh, they were certainly religiously inferior. After all, they didn’t worship the one true God.
Why was that? Well, they weren’t the People of Israel. They were something else racially. Ergo, in this mindset, they were racially inferior.
And there were very clear lines of who was “chosen” and who “wasn’t remotely chosen” (in modspeak). On one side we have the Jewish people. On the other–everybody else, or the gentiles. That’s, for those of you who are reading, basically the entire planet. That includes everyone with European ancestry, everyone from Africa, everyone from the Pacific, Oceana, the “Native Americans” or “First Nations” here in North America. It included the Aztecs and the culturally sophisticated peoples of South America.
For example: A few years ago, it was quite popular to have your DNA tested. You spit in a tube, you send it off, and a few weeks later you get your results (and they’re ever updating on your online profile as the technology and science improve). So, if you were one of the many who spit in a tube and sent it off and you are even 1% something other than Jewish … well, originally Jesus would have said “Sorry, Not Sorry” and moved on to save someone who was chosen, because someone (or many someones) in your heritage weren’t the right sort. For the record, I’m there with you. I have no Jewish blood so I doubt Jesus would have liked me much during his early ministry.
However, it was much more subtle than that. The Samaritans were even worse than being a gentile in the eyes of First Century Palestine and, thus, in the eyes of Jesus. Who were the Samaritans? Well, they were the descendants of the Ten Northern Tribes of Israel who were occupied and lived in exile in various foreign empires. They changed culturally, they intermarried a bit, but they did eventually come back to Israel. The Samaritans believed themselves to be the true followers of the one true God. The Jews, however, saw them as little better than mongrels with dangerous ideas of grandeur.
So This is Where the Human Yeshua of Nazareth is Coming From
Jesus (or Yeshua, in Hebrew), thus, had all of these cultural ideas fed to him since he was a little boy trailing after his mother’s skirts. As he grew up, I have no doubt they were nurtured, and when he was roughly thirty years old he went to go do what he was born to do — preach the good news and tell the Chosen People how they misinterpreted God’s message.
Straight forward. Easy. If we just look at that, it seems fine, until it’s suddenly… not.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gathers his twelve chosen and shares his divine power. He enables them to cure the sick, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons, among other things. But there are instructions. The Twelve are to go nowhere near the Gentiles or the Samaritans. Read into this: we haven’t come for them. Read more into that: they aren’t worthy. Ready even more into this: they are beneath our notice.
Of course, we know Jesus’s view changes. We knows that the accepts water from a Samaritan woman. We know that cures even those he thinks are unclean based off of the fact that they aren’t Jews. For those of you who love classic cinema, at the end of Ben Hur, Jesus cures lepers who are Romans, of all the horrors of horrors! This scene is based off Biblical passages and could, quite possibly, have happened.
Jesus starts out as rigid, a product of his culture, and then at some point catches on that he’s being a bit human in mindset.
Yes, the Jews are the Chosen People. You really won’t find many Christians who are going to dispute that, although there may be some hemming and hawing from certain quarters. Jesus, as the Son of God, came to save them and everything about his upbringing supports this view, but he–for lack of a better term–grows out of it once he actually goes into the world and begins to preach.
At first, there are only exceptions. I always bring up the story of The Good Samaritan because we’re so used to it, so comfortable with it, and yet when Jesus told this particular parable, it was meant to shock–because everyone, not just Jesus, held these prejudices.
But then–glory be to the Father–the exception becomes the rule.
Jesus Came to Save the Downtrodden, the Underdog, and the Undesirable… Just not at First
As Jesus’s ministry evolved, he flocked to people on the edges of society. At the time, these were the widows, the beggars, the tax collectors, the women who might not have a husband, the orphans… the Samaritans… even the odd Roman citizen or soldier who would listen.
In Matthew 10, we see that Jesus is prepared to be unwelcome by those he originally comes to save, although this is not always the case. Yes, he would sit down to dinner with learned scholars and he accepted funds from wealthy widows (who were the height of respectability). His favorite cousin (John the Baptist) was the son of a highly respected priest at the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus, certainly, would have hung out with him and his family as a kid, even if he himself was the son of a carpenter. But they weren’t “his people”, as I like to call one’s closest friends, associates, and family. His people were the lepers who no one would touch, the children in comas who would never grow into adulthood, the women who compared themselves to dogs begging at table for scraps. These were “his people.”
… And who would be in Jesus’s Posse Today?
I want you to take a good look around you, not in actuality, but at the world as it is forming and unforming itself. Who would Jesus be hanging with in his desert-worn sandals and face mask?
The easy thing for me to do, right here and right now as I sit in my living room with my cat, is to point out current social injustices and say that Jesus is fighting the good fight. I can get on my soapbox, I can say what some want to hear, what others scoff at… but this is where it gets very subtle, a little bit complicated, and oh so brilliant.
Jesus, by the time he was crucified, realized that he came specifically for you. You, whoever you are, became his chosen. You, who are gloriously human, so brilliantly flawed, with your prejudices (and trust me–we all have them even if we believe we are on the right side of history) and your virtues. If you are marching in the streets, then Jesus is there with you. If you frankly don’t care and think everyone’s gone insane, well, no doubt Jesus also holds that view in his desire for peace and nonviolence.
Jesus, when he realized that he came not just for the Chosen, but for everything that was rejected, came for everyone, in every shape or form–regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of prejudice, regardless of sexuality or gender identity, regardless of wealth, just… regardless. He didn’t come just for the people who are right or the people who believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that everything that they did was correct and justified.
He stood spiritually with the zealots in Israel who attacked the Romans for raping Israel, even if he disagreed with their methods. He stood with the soldiers who whipped men for believing that Israel could one day be free, forgiving them with his dying breath. He stood with the men who got fat off of the suffering of the Jewish people, sitting with them and talking to them. He stood with the children who were nameless and pickpocketed old wives who couldn’t afford to misplace a single denarius… and that’s just an example of one historical social tension of the hundreds upon hundreds I could have drawn upon.
So, think. Jesus has been where you are and he is with you now.
He knew hate, he knew lies, he knew what it was to be racially inferior to the Romans, what it was like to despise the Samaritans for being less than Jewish. He grew above that, he grew beyond that, he learned that as God Himself he must be more than the earthly squabbles he so actively participated in and perpetuated during his early ministry.
Jesus’s ideas changed, they focused, and in the end in boiled down to a simple message: Love. He loved those who spat on him, he loved those whom he had previously kicked in the dirt. He loved those he could never understand, he loved those who were both kind and cruel, and his greatest message… once he realized it… was that without Love, what exactly was the point?