Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Glorious Rebel

(The revolutionary face of the God of nonviolence)


A FRIDAY noon, almost two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ was crucified on Calvary, the hill outside the city of Jerusalem. (Calvary in its Latin origin means ‘the place of a skull’). Being nailed to two pieces of wood and abandoned to the torment of a lingering death was a particularly inhuman form of punishment reserved by the ancient Romans for the worst criminals. Christ’s real crime was simply that he spoke the truth, which is intolerable to all forms of authority – but especially ecclesiastical. By what he said and did, he exposed men who, in the name of institutional religion, wielded power without moral sanction. Christ had to be killed because the truth he said threatened the very foundation of their system of power, privilege and profit.

Jesus of Nazareth, born into a carpenter’s family, lived a sage and simple life and chose his disciples from a weaker section of society — indigent fishermen. The life of Jesus was absolute simplicity, matchless humility and compassionate humanity. He washed the feet of his disciples, he defined godist superstition. To share and care for your neighbour, even your enemy, were the fundamentals he taught. He was thus a pioneer of world brotherhood, who advocated freedom from dogmas and obscurantist cults. Such a universalism is the testament of Jesus.

Christ turned the world's accepted norms upside down. It was the poor, not the rich, who were blessed; the weak, not the strong, who were to be esteemed; the pure in heart, not the sophisticated and the worldly, who understood what life was all about. Righteousness, not power or money or sensual pleasure should be man's pursuit. We should love our enemies, bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us, and pray for them that despitefully use us, in order that we may be worthy members of a human family. On the outskirts of the dying Roman civilisation, he spoke of dying in order to live. Today, when human civilisation is likewise dying, his words have the same awe-inspiring relevance as they had then.

He symbolised a revolutionary change in the theological-temporal establishment and advocated social justice and divinity, dignity and equity in the social order. He proclaimed the reality of a universal moral order. He called it the kingdom of heaven and told the people that the kingdom of god was indeed within them. He outraged the hypocrites who did their commerce inside the temples and the shrines. He drove them out with rare daring.

When the “glorious Rebel” from Nazareth comes upon the woman to be stoned for adultery, he says, "Let the one without sin be the first to cast the stone. When Jesus tells Peter to put his sword back, he is making it clear that he expects the disciples not to give in to the culture of violence and the path of revenge. This unconventional man from Nazareth was "the revolutionary face of the God of nonviolence”.

Jesus resisted the commercialisation of god and the commoditisation of man. Big temples, great churches, god-men, bishops, mullahs and acharyas are anti-Jesus in spirit. What a marvel it was that Jesus preached ages ago — that God was equal in granting his favours to all, as was the sun!

Jesus advocated the unity and fraternity of humanity, like the doctrine of Advaita that Adi Sankara propagated as an Upanishadic fundamental. Not only did he strike at patriotism and the bonds of family loyalty in the name of God’s universal fatherhood and the brotherhood of all mankind, his teaching condemned all the gradations of the economic system, all private wealth, and personal advantage. He said: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God

Jesus opposed the culture of violence in his time with an inner peace and a startling love of his enemies. He was a troublemaker for the religious elite, the rulers, the war-making Roman Empire, and the establishment. Jesus' 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 deigned to live by this ethic. Wars are waged in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Syria and itching to wage in Iran and other places with fierce hatred for the “enemy’, and patriotism is invoked as we are ordered to follow the commander-in-chief of American Forces, instead of the command of Jesus.

Christ’s crucifixion serves as a reminder that saviours have to die for their faith and to pay for the sins of their own brethren. Jesus was such a man, and so were Mahavira and Buddha before him and Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr almost two thousand years later. What binds them, despite the minor differences in their beliefs, is their fearlessness and their peace with those beliefs. Each was far, far ahead of his time. Each had to speak in parable, in allegory, if he hoped to be even understood.

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Good Friday 2012

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