I once encountered a Marxist debater who was slicing and dicing a mild-mannered Christian speaker in London’s Hyde Park. The Marxist was making mincemeat particularly of the Very Nice Jesus being proclaimed by the now-sad fellow marooned on his little box.
“Jesus was not a nice person!” the young Marxist exclaimed, his finger jabbing at a New Testament text in which Jesus is saying terrible things about the Jewish theological professionals of his day, and then at another in which Jesus threatens hellfire for those who ignore his teaching.
I took on my Marxist neighbour in a sort of rhetorical judo: “Of course Jesus wasn’t a nice person!” I agreed, to his confusion. “You don’t crucify nice guys.”
If we reduce Jesus to a nice person, or a mere do-gooder, or a groovy mystic–as so, so many “Christians” do, including many who are preaching sermons in Christian churches this weekend–then we cannot possibly explain why the leaders of his own religion and the highest political authorities of his region decided he was worth a moment’s notice, let alone an extensive whipping and then a brutal execution. No, as friend Larry Hurtado argues in Slate, a good test of any portrait of Jesus is whether it passes the test of “crucifiability.”
On this Day of Days in the Christian calendar, and in the days to come, let’s re-read our Gospels. Let’s re-sing the old songs. Let’s recite the old prayers and liturgies. And let us get into focus as clearly as we can Someone so unusual, so upsetting to the established order of things, so wonderful, and so powerful that those best acquainted with him either loved him to death or hounded him to death.
He really was crucified. And it’s worth asking–it is always worth asking–why.