“Kind of a sloppy comparison.”
That’s what I commented when I found a picture online of an Occupy Wall Street protest sign depicting Jesus, whips held high, with the inscription "The Original Occupy Wall Street."
The Occupy Wall Street movement, as I’d come to understand it, decried any kind of public disturbance or violence; and Jesus, as I’d come to understand Him, was not exactly railing against the state (as OWS clearly is) when He cleansed the Temple. Comparing the two is like comparing apples to orange-iness, a mixed metaphor that obfuscates both.
Within minutes came the reply: “I guess you’ve never read the part in the Bible when Jesus kicked the thieves and bankers out of the church. UR ignorant.”
How do you even respond to that? Well, any way but this, apparently:
“UR proving my point.”
Next, I got profane vitriol (instead of dialogue), followed by a “block.” In trying to learn what is at the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement, I’ve learned many things about the people involved. But this is new: as much as some people hate it if you try to give them Jesus, they hate it even more if you try to take Him away.
But I think I understand why: Jesus’ name has been attached to more revolutions than anybody could count, particularly the ones that make peace their method (e.g. OWS). Even where a revolution is not distinctly Christian, Jesus is invoked, as He as has been inducted as a member of the holy trinity of civil disobedience: Ghandi, King and Christ. The unchallenged assumption for awhile now is that Jesus is anti-establishment and pro-people’s revolt. But is that really the case?
If revolutionaries the world over are misunderstanding Jesus, He wouldn’t be alone. Every revolution faces the same struggle. Occupy Wall Street has waged a small PR war to ensure they are properly understood. Is this the liberal Tea Party? Technical foul: OWS rejects the comparison and disavows any allegiance to or affiliation with a political party. Is OWS a violent uprising? Heavens no. Then what about all those Occupiers wearing Guy Fawks masks, the same grinning visage of Guy Fawks worn by V, a sort of Zoro-meets-ninja anarchist who wreaks havoc on a totalitarian regime in the 2006 film V for Vendetta? And what about those dudes lobbing molotov cocktails willy-nilly about the streets of Rome last weekend? Well, when you’re dealing with a peoples’ uprising, you can be sure to find a few hotheads who have been waiting to hijack just such an occasion.
Maybe OWS can’t really be blamed if a few zealots make it into the mix; in that, they do have a parallel to the Jesus movement. As populists movements go, Jesus had a good one on his hands, and while it included people from every strata of society, it included a few Zealots, anti-institutional extremists. The revolutionaries were drawn to Him. But if they stayed around long enough, they found something completely different than what they had had in mind.
This one time, a few revolutionaries in the mix tried to take a temperature on Jesus’ revolutionary fervor. They press Jesus for His official stance on a horrible instance where, in a violent government crackdown, priests-turned-enemies-of-the-state were murdered in the Temple. The crowd wants to test Jesus’ allegiances, but Jesus would have none of it: “You think only revolutionaries deserve to die like that, struck down publicly in their place of work? Unless you repent, everyone one of you will die a revolutionary’s death.”
Yep, He actually said that, just a second before He points out that everyone who doesn’t repent deserves to die like those establishment sell-outs crushed by a falling tower. Whatever revolution Jesus is trying to develop, one thing is for certain: any other partisan ideology just won’t stick to it.
But that means we must pay all the more attention to Jesus’ treatment of revolutionary sensibilities. A blunt classification of Jesus = revolutionary = Occupy will never fly.
In fact, Jesus’ revolution is in so many ways an anti-revolution. He was known to tank the revolution on more than one occasion. With representation from poor, middle and even wealthy classes all flocking to Him in the desert, the opportunity for change rivaled anything we have seen during the Arab Spring. But instead of a call to arms, Jesus quells any sense of revolution with His peaceful doctrine of “turn the other cheek,” and an assurance that, whatever He has come to do, He has no intention to overturn the establishment. Later, when the masses want to make Him king, He turns most of them away with His “eat my flesh” talk. Where OWS longs for inclusivity according to the lowest common denominator—rage against the establishment—Jesus prefers to set the bar high. What’s more, He is dedicated to a strategy of “not lifting up His voice in the street,” the foundational strategy of almost any western protest movement. If He is trying to spark a global populist uprising to force the hand of the powers that be, He is doing it all wrong.
How Jesus’ anti-revolution came to become the rationale for democratic protest movements throughout the 20th century is a question for the historians, but the shift might explain at the very least why Christians are not flocking to Occupy, and why even the most controversial voices in the Church are relatively quiet: just because you say Ghandi and Jesus in the same breath doesn’t mean that what Christians see in the OWS jives with what they see in the Gospels.
If we must say anything about Jesus the Revolutionary, we must first point out the granular focus of His revolution—that which makes His cause so difficult to align with any other cause: Of the rich, middle and poor, He demands a revolution of spirit that begins with a profound admittance of our individual shortcomings. The wealthy elite must say with the marginalized poor, “I am the problem.”
Bret Mavrich is a missionary and writer living with his wife in Kansas City, Missouri. Formerly the Director of Abolition for Exodus Cry, he now leads a program at the International House of Prayer University designed to activate the next generation of leaders in Christ-centered social justice. You can visit his website at BretMavrich.com or follow him on Twitter @BretMavrich.