Holy Week’s Dangerous Messiah

March 24, 2013


By Charles Redfern, first published on http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charles-redfern/.

Imagine my shock when I saw how my childhood’s domesticated Palm Sunday steered me into a domesticated Holy Week with a domesticated Jesus and a domesticated faith. It was a coloring-book Palm Sunday, a Palm Sunday of the early ’60s suburban, mainline church — before the assassinations and Vietnam and the riots — where children lay their cloaks before the smiling, Anglo-Saxon, meek-and-mild Jesus on his donkey. Such a Jesus would never challenge hucksters in a den of thieves and force the authorities to render their historic decisions. Why kill such a nice guy?

The real Jesus of the real Palm Sunday and the real Holy Week trashes such an insipid faith. He’s dangerous.

Jesus had been mostly covert until this moment, even coy: Only three saw the Transfiguration and he hushed-up many healings. Few knew that the fine wine was once water and that the feast for thousands was a boy’s lunch: Keep everyone in the dark until the time is ripe. Apparently, now was the time. The veil was dropped; the covert became overt; the undomesticated Jesus roamed free. He climbed off the donkey, cursed an innocent fig tree, then flipped tables and drove out the money-changers from the Court of the Gentiles. This was no mere “temple cleansing,” as if he dabbed the walls with Pine Sol. He captured the temple. Those money-changers exchanged foreign coins at exorbitant rates for sanctuary currency so pilgrims could register and buy sacrificial animals. They milked the poor in the process and mocked Leviticus 5:7: “Anyone who cannot afford a lamb is to bring two doves or two young pigeons to the LORD as a penalty for their sin — one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.”

James W. McCarty III described the temple as “the symbolic center of Jewish religious, political, legal, and economic power. It was, in the words of one of my former Bible professors, the White House, Supreme Court, and Federal Reserve combined.” Jesus cut off the religious officials from their funds when he expelled the money changers and shut down Israel’s cultural center, then defied them with His unrelenting presence during Holy Week. No more PAC donations.

That’s a Jesus the powerful would crucify.

The obvious question: Who are today’s money-changers? No fair painting targets on greedy Wall Street brokers and Congressional representatives. They’re too easy. And no fair pointing at religious rivals (imagine the cacophony if we crammed the room with Eastern Orthodox and Catholic priests and Protestant evangelicals and theological progressives). Too easy again — and we’ve missed the point. Jesus would push us before the mirror. Perhaps those leveling accusations betray themselves: the soul-searchers confess; the money-changers shout and evade responsibility. They’re trolls.

I’ve mingled among most factions as an ecumenical evangelical with a mainline ordination and an admiration for the ancient churches — and I’m now finding glimmers of hope where I formerly despaired. I once toyed with jettisoning the “evangelical” label. I now find confession. In fact, we’re our most severe critics. Many now listen to David Gushee and Richard Cizik and Lisa Sharon Harper. Youths are signing on with Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. We’re escorting the money changers out despite their shrill protests.

Catholics are weary of their own money-changers. Their new, apparently humble pope shows promise, especially in that subtle but monumental moment when he embraced the Orthodox patriarch, Bartholomew I. Some dare to dream of closing an unnecessary 1,000-year rift between kindred peoples. Former impossibilities become possibilities when the money-changers flee.

And then there are the Protestant theological progressives. Many of them welcomed me in the depths of my evangelical desolation. I will be forever grateful, but I can’t help but hear the subtle invective against “narrow-minded” evangelicals and Catholics (they’re barely aware of the Orthodox). It’s subtle, even slippery. It’s draped in therapeutic and diplomatic lingo: “dialogue,” “conversation,” “awareness” and “open-mindedness.” They rightly criticize evangelicals for slicing passages on justice from their Bibles; but, thanks to Gushee and Cizik and Harper — and Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne and Jim Wallis and Marcia Pally and Joel Hunter and Gordon Fee and Glen Stassen — their Bibles are being restored.

Meanwhile, who are the progressives to talk? They’re notorious for hollowing the Scriptures. And is the Green Party really God’s Party and are all Republicans Neanderthals? I thought neo-Orthodox theologians like Barth, Bonhoeffer and the Niebuhr brothers chased away their money-changers. What happened? Have they retreated to the coloring book Palm Sunday and to a docile Jesus who’d never mix with NASCAR fans?

All of us, including the mainline Protestant progressives, must face the mirror.

My childhood’s tame, cultivated Jesus couldn’t seize a temple or sweat blood in a garden or mount a cross — and he’d shun the morning light even if he were raised from the dead. He’d summon his apostles while lingering in the cave so he could “process” his feelings. Maybe he’d even lead a seminar in the tomb, complete with a study guide and DVDs offered at a discount price. Such a Jesus may seem comforting, but He is not life-giving.

I’ll take the dangerous Jesus of the original Holy Week. I’ll tremble before Him as I ask him to chase out my money-changers.



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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern


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One Comment on “Holy Week’s Dangerous Messiah”

  1. gary Says:

    Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ,

    I ask you to consider these points:

    1. When God said that he would preserve his Word, what did he mean? Did he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which his Word was written? If so, then his Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain.

    Did he mean that he would preserve his word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek only? He would not preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the world?

    Or did God mean that he would preserve his Word…the message/the words…the Gospel: the free gift of salvation, and the true doctrines of the Christian Faith? Would God allow his Word/his message to mankind to be so polluted by translation errors that no translation, into any other language from the three original languages, continues to convey his true words?

    2. There is NO translation of the Bible, from the original ancient languages, into ANY language, ANYWHERE on earth, that translates the Bible as the Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated.

    No Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as, “Repent and believe in Jesus Christ every one of you and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of your faith.”

    Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as to suggest that God forgives sins in Baptism? And not only all English translations, ALL translations of the Bible have retained these “mistranslations or confusing wording”.

    Do you honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with translation errors that EVERY Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain interpretation, would tell the people of the world that God forgives sins in water baptism??

    3. Why is there not one single piece of evidence from the early Christians that indicates that ANYONE in the 800-1,000 years after Christ believed that: Water baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience; sins are NOT forgiven in water baptism? Yes, you will find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith? THAT IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION, MY FRIENDS! Does the sinner produce faith by his own free will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide faith and belief as a free gift, with no strings attached, WHEN exactly does God give it?

    4. Is it possible that: Baptist-like believers, at some point near or after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” and “Call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved” and established their doctrine of Salvation/Justification first, based on these and similar verses alone, and then, looked at the issue of water baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism didn’t seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, these early Baptists re-interpreted these verses to fit with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the “baptism verses” literally?

    Is it possible that BOTH groups of verses are literally correct?? If we believe God’s Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call AND when they are baptized? Why not believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes and when a sinner is baptized?

    Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?

    God bless you!

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals


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