Alright, I’m going to come out and say it now, in an attempt to preface this post. For those of you whom I don’t have the pleasure of knowing well in person, there is something crucial you should know about me before reading this: I’m not a terribly religious guy. Shocked? Didn’t think so. The middle-class son of a pro-feminist, ordained southern Baptist mother, and a left-winged, federally employed, neo-liberal father, I didn’t have much choice in the matter.
Of course- as is typical of all preacher’s kids- I was at church on Sunday every week, earlier than everyone else, and stayed later to help clean up. I’ve seen the dirtier, grittier, hands-on side of organized religion, and let me be the first to tell you, it isn’t pretty. There are a multitude of antiquated, invisible power structures in play, all working against one another, pushing and pulling and contorting the inherent sanctity of religious faith. In most cases, religious organizations and groups- churches most especially- only serve as an auxiliary component of our heightened political and human bureaucracy, rather than as proponents of individual spiritualism and growth.
It is my solemn belief that all people should have for themselves a system of spiritual guidelines and rules, personalized to meet their needs and provide for them a better standard of life. Most of the world’s major religions offer such systems of beliefs in the altruistic effort to make us all a little more holy. Unfortunately, organized religion tends so often to stray from this path, instead offering its followers and blind believers a series of ultimatums, suppressive traditions, and narrow minded perspectives in an effort to subdue them.
In most cases, this is all in an act of dominance on behalf of those in charge, or in some cases- as Marx would say- as an “opiate for the people,” acting to satiate their spiritual appetite at the expense of their personal spiritual freedoms and individual consciousness.
In summation, I’m a large fan of the idea of religious values as tools for spiritual, emotional, and moral growth, but I despise any sort of organization as a means for subjugation. I most closely identify with the Christian values of everlasting love in the face of all adversity, forgiveness to all, and the belief that all people are created inherently good. When organization steps in to cloud or distort these values, I begin to seriously question its legitimacy and substance.
Anyway, enough vitriol. I hope I don’t offend anyone with this post, as that is not the point of this humorous exercise. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to tune you into my own world view so as to better translate what I see through my personal lens. If you feel that the mere thought of comparing Jesus to a Steve Martin flick is blasphemy, then please direct yourself away from this post now. I also want to apologize in advance to any of my Jewish or Muslim readers, for whom- by its very nature- this post will be significantly less important and humorous. Oh well, it isn’t my fault you only give the big man “prophet” status! To the rest of you: Enjoy!
I got the idea for this post- you guessed it- Easter weekend when I had the convenient privilege of spending Easter with my family and friends here in Indianapolis. I felt special and well loved that day, if not a bit overly pleased with myself. You see, on most Easter mornings I’m on the 8 hour trip to Wisconsin to see my family, only to eat dinner and return to Indianapolis a day or two later.
This year however, my sister decided to drag my mom down to Indy to check out Butler after receiving her acceptance letter. The best part? They were staying at my grandmother’s house, so there was free food a plenty, and lots of Easter giveaways. I didn’t have to drive more than an hour in any direction and my holiday plans were right on track.
This got me to thinking: “Why is the rebirth of some religious zealot such a big deal to us still? What makes him so much different than you and me?” Then I realized that his perceived greatness is a direct function of his immortality. As if to pull the biggest “My dad could beat up your dad” on his disciples, Jesus comes back seemingly from irreparable mutilation on some planks of wood and emerges fine in every way.
Don’t get me wrong, before his brush with immortality, Jesus was a kick-butt dude. He was a fabulous orator, a revered spiritual teacher, a healer of the blind, deaf, lame, and infected, and a master of the elements. Who else could directly address a powerful tempest and simply ask it to stop? Who else could converse with an angelic host on multiple occasions and actually live after death to see the fruits of his labor?
Today I want to share with you the observable ways the afterlife changed the prodigal son for the worst. Instead of coming back wiser and enlightened, the bearded miracle decided to return and rub his martyrdom in the face of his closest friends and loved ones. Let’s delve deeper into what he thought made him so much better than all of us devout worshipers:
1) He couldn’t leave a note?
Let’s tackle this with a passage from John, explaining how the disciples and Mary couldn’t find Jesus’ body at the tomb.
“Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:1-2)
“He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.”(John 20:5-7)
I chose to quote the gospel of John here, as it tends to be the most straight forward of the resurrection interpretations. Not that I don’t like Luke’s version (you know, the one where Jesus makes the angels do all his dirty work) but John lends itself to my illustrations a bit better.
Jesus was a jerk in this instance because he couldn’t do the proper thing and leave a note for his followers. He may have warned them in passing ahead of time, but seriously, only a jerk gets a kick out of freaking out his friends. No papyrus scroll reading “I’m cleaning up the garden outside. Oh, btw, I’m back.” No scratchings on the wall of an arrow pointing outside with maybe a signature? Heck, he had the resources to clean and press his putrid death robes but couldn’t let his girlfriend know he was back? That’s jerk 101.
2) His devious impersonation…as a gardener
This one has always confused me. With his new found psycho-magic powers of immortality, Jesus decides he’ll go tend to the grounds outside of him tomb, rather than , I don’t know, deliver the entire human race from their sins? That’s a shifty move unto itself- but it gets better.
As with all of these points, there is a bit of controversy here. Matthew says that when Mary and some of the disciples left the empty tomb of Jesus, they were immediately met by him in the garden where they proceeded to kiss his feet and praise him. Fortunately, the other gospels all refer to Jesus’ blinding or fogging the minds of his followers so as not to recognize him when he greets them. The interpretation I’m referring to is found in John and goes something like-
“At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”(John 20:14-15)
So, you’ve already freaked out your most prized faithful and mourning loved ones by staging a grave robbery. What’s the next logical step? Have some angels greet them (or not, if you’re Mark) then play crazy mind games on your girlfriend so she doesn’t recognize you. For effect, you can even pretend to be the grave-robbing gardener. Once you’ve had your fun, drop the magical haze from her eyes and say, “Gotcha.” Proceed to let her exclaim “Rabboni!” (teacher) and worship at your feet, jerk.
3) His After(life) Party…in honor of Him
This part of the story always made me laugh too. So, the big man-on-Earth himself gets back from a brief visit with the Almighty, and what does he proceed to do? (After royal confusing the heck out of his followers and girlfriend, of course) I’ll let the gospel of Matthew explain-
“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
It is important to note that all the other gospels say something along these lines, and the missing verses of Mark tackle this subject too.
So, the guy has messed with the minds of his best friends long enough. What does he decide to do? Throw a party of course, in celebration of his new and awesome powers (in the literal sense.) In some interpretations, Jesus actually tells the disciples to stay in hiding, but prepare a party for him. Conveniently, in those stories he also has awesome teleportation skills (granted by immortality), so he “beams” into the party behind locked doors.
4) Calls out his best friend…well, one of them
The most memorable part of the passover story is probably the “parable” of Doubting Thom. I apologize for this passage being long, but to help the length I won’t preface it-
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29)
This one is easy. Only jerks call out their best friends in front of all their other best friends. Seriously, the guy helped throw a party for you and is hiding from the Romans in fear of being crucified because he used to hang with you. The least you could do in that situation is give them all some sort of magical protection. What does Jesus do instead? He makes Thom touch his nasty, immortal entrails to prove that people who don’t believe without seeing are less blessed than blind believers.
Yah. That makes sense.
5) He didn’t take anyone back up there
So Jesus EXPLICITLY guarantees a spot in the immortal sanctity of heaven for those of his disciples and followers who turn to a devout belief in God, a casting off of all material things, and a general sense of holy fervor. However, when he gets back (and stays back) he hangs out for 3 days and leaves them hanging, staring up at the bright and blazing heavens, like this-
“When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.” (Luke 24:50-53)
You follow a guy around for a few years, abandon your wives and your lucrative fishing enterprise on the sea of Galilee, help heal the sick and dying, feed the hungry, and promote holiness among your debased people. You do all this just to see him die a traumatic death on the Mount of Olives. So, when he finally comes back from his journey to heaven, you’re overjoyed. Then, all of a sudden, right in the middle of telling you what your new job is and how to do it, the man who promised you eternal joy and happiness disappears back into the clouds from whence he came. Without you. What a jerk.
So what have we discovered? The long lasting legacy of the Easter resurrection is founded in the fact that Jesus came back as a powerful, conceited immortal, basically to tell his disciples “Well, I can’t do this anymore, so you guys probably should. Oh, P.S., you can’t come hang with me up here until you’ve spread the word some more. J-man Out!”
Now, we take it upon ourselves to celebrate his ascension into heaven in a state of undeath….rather than when he got there the first time. I mean, I guess we essentially got the keys to the kingdom, and an official seal of approval washing away our sins. But seriously, lets not forget that our disciple buddies had to deal with an immortal jerk to get us here!
P.S. Hope I didn’t offend too many of you! Even if I did, feel free to comment! I hope you had an enjoyable Easter weekend and I wish you all an eventful summer.