I understand that 17 posts on Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life And Times of Jesus of Nazareth may seem like a bit of over-kill.

I know some readers of IASP have become a little weary of my preoccupation with Aslan’s book.

But, in a strange way, I have found the exercise of reflecting on Aslan’s Zealot encouraging and nurturing to my faith.

If Aslan’s imaginative re-creation of The Life And Times of Jesus of Nazareth is really the best that can be done to suggest an alternative to the traditional formulation of who Jesus was, what he taught, and how he was received in the world, then the traditional vision of Jesus seems to me to be, by contrast, highly believable and far more appealing.

My faith in the Jesus of traditional Christianity is deeply reinforced by Aslan’s attempt to come up with an alternative explanation to what might have happened 2,000 years ago around the itinerant preacher from Nazareth.

Faced with a choice between Aslan’s failed political messiah, and the Gospel’s embodiment of the love and power of God in the person of Jesus, I find the Gospels’ picture vastly more compelling.

The problem with Jesus is not that he threatened the established power structures of his day. The idea that he posed any significant threat to the entrenched power of the mighty Roman Empire is laughable. Jesus was a powerless insignificant itinerant preacher. His teaching was not even particularly radical and the band of followers he managed to gather around him was pitiful.

The problem with Jesus as he is portrayed in the Gospels was that he understood deeply the profound heart of his own faith’s belief system and he sought to call people back to the essence of their faith.

Jesus was a religious radical in the sense of the Latin radix or “root” which lies at the heart of what it means to be truly “radical.” Jesus was not creating some new belief system or calling for the overthrow of any governing force. He was simply calling people to return to the root of their faith. And the root of faith, as Jesus taught, was the overthrow of all human power. Jesus called all people, no matter their position in life, to lay down their lives in the interests of love. To those who are accustomed to the perks of power, this is deeply offensive.

Jesus came to reaffirm the vision of that peaceable kingdom which lies at the heart of all true religious expression and which was articulated in his own religious tradition by the prophet Isaiah who wrote,

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
   the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
   and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
   their young shall lie down together;
   and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)

Of course a kingdom that can be led by “a little child” has always been and will always be deeply threatening to those who hold positions of power and privilege in the establishment of their day. Those who use the trappings of position to impose their will on others, will always resist a vision in which the whole earth is “full of the knowledge of the Lord.”

The vision Jesus embodied is captured most graphically not in his direct conflict with the powers-that-be, but in his interaction with children:

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ (Mark 10:13-15)

Jesus lived, died, was raised from death, ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit of God to flood the earth, not so that the good guys could win and the bad guys be defeated, but so that access to God might be fully and equally available to every human being without distinction.

Jesus leveled the playing field in the spiritual realm so that even failures like his initial followers might live in his kingdom. He opened the possibility of relationship with God so that even I might find my place in the divine love that created me and sustains all life. This is a much more compelling vision to me than some fleeting political liberation that might ever be established in the material realm of human affairs.

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