“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, and has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor, proclaim freedom to the captives, provide sight to those who cannot see, bring liberation to the oppressed, and proclaim the Lord’s year of jubilee!”
With these words Jesus preached his first sermon at the local synagogue.
Immediately after proclaiming his mission statement, the congregation sprang to their feet, bent on throwing Jesus off the nearest cliff. But he slipped through the mob and walked away.
The head rabbi of that particular synagogue witnessed the commotion. Sympathetic to the itinerant preacher, he pulled the young Jesus aside to share some paternalistic words of wisdom.
“Now Jesus,” the head rabbi began, “I want you to know that you provide a perspective we all need to hear; and I defend your religious freedom to say whatever you believe is inspired by the Spirit of the Living God, even when they disagree with the synagogue’s official position.
“But you must realize, young man, that doing so carries certain responsibilities as a member of the larger community. At all times you must be accurate, exercise appropriate restraint and show respect for the opinion of others.
“Calling the Pharisees ‘whitewashed tombs’ has caused irreparable damage to the reputation of this synagogue. They are holy men whose commitment to the Law is an inspiration to us all. Several are major donors to our synagogue (as you can tell by the way we named the new wing to our building.)
“You need to recognize that our synagogue is financially dependent on its members and gifting, so referring to them as a brood of vipers helps no one.
“You have put the synagogue in a difficult situation by continuing to speak of your beliefs in a manner that is divisive and contrary to the beliefs of our institution.
“While we welcome ‘forward’ thinkers, an institution such as ours cannot have a teacher, especially one of religion, expressing and teaching beliefs that are contrary to its core values.
“Now, we do not dispute that your message is a good one for all of us to hear, but I believe it would be more effective if your rhetoric wasn’t so antagonistic. You are constantly complaining without offering suggestions for improvement.
“It appears you enjoy causing strife in our community under the guise of aiding the oppressed. You have brought great division into our formerly united community. And that is what false teachers do–haven’t you read the Book of Jude?
“Now Jesus, the crowds loved it when you did those sermons about loving your neighbor. And they were really impressed with your magic tricks, especially the one about multiplying the bread. I know we all enjoyed the free meal. But for Christ’s sake, can you just stop judging and condemning the Sadducees? You’re simply biting the hand that feeds you.
“One more thing. You know I’m all for this political correctness and diversity stuff. I was among the first to advocate the institution’s need to bring in more Galileans. I’m so glad for affirmative action, because I think we all benefit when we have more of ‘your’ kind of people here. So don’t blow it by speaking out of turn.
“You’re now in Jerusalem, the center of religious power, so you simply have to learn how to play by the unwritten rules and not offend the silent majority. It’s OK to be critical, but you can’t offend anyone, especially those who financially support this synagogue. You must find a way to nudge us toward justice without questioning our authority, power or privilege.”
Jesus faced a crossroad. He either watered down his message to make it more palatable to the dominant religious culture of his place and time. Or, he would have to shake the sand off his sandals and move on to where those in power were truly committed to diversity in thought and were willing to struggle together to find the face of God.
Miguel De La Torre is director of the Justice and Peace Institute and associate professor of Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.