Everything the President of the United States says is news. If he belches, international stock markets drop. If he bellows, nations flinch. If his speech is aggressive – and how often this president sounds aggressive – ambassadors phone home. It seems his every word is parsed, interpreted, and debated.
I can’t think of anyone whose words have been more closely attended, unless it was Jesus himself. His words have been parsed, interpreted, and debated for two thousand years. But in Jesus’s case, his words have been parsed by experts in ancient languages. They have been interpreted and debated by theologians, whereas President Trump’s words are fodder for the news and entertainment media – and face it, in our day the distinction between news and entertainment has virtually disappeared.
What, I can’t help but wonder, would today’s news media have made of Jesus? How would they have reported on him? If Jesus were their subject, what kind of headlines lines would today’s editors splash across the page? With what kind of lead would they open a news story?
The fact that Jesus, unlike other rabbis of his day, taught women was a source of controversy during his three years of public service. St. Luke tells us that some women (including prosperous, married women) supported his work financially and at least occasionally traveled with his disciples. One can imagine a front-page picture of adoring women gazing at Jesus, with the caption: “Fund-raising Effort Among Married Women Pays Off.”
When Jesus turned water into wine, how would reporters have chronicled it? Would they have called it an ecological disaster or described it as a revolutionary process sure to drive traditional vintners into bankruptcy?
Jesus was widely known as “a friend of tax collectors and sinners,” the two most reviled categories of people in the country. Tax collectors were most despised, and were considered traitors, since they worked for the occupational government. Headlines might include: “Collaborators Throw Support Behind Jesus,” or “Jesus Accepts Fringe Group’s Endorsement.”
Or how about when Jesus “cleansed the temple”? It was endlessly controversial even then, but how would today’s news and entertainment media have broken the story? “Jesus Leads Anti-Clerical Protest,” or “Chaos Erupts on Temple Grounds,” or “Jesus Accused of Assault in Temple Incident.”
What Jesus did was certainly newsworthy, but what he said could have kept a scandal-mongering news media in a feeding frenzy. Imagine what a reporter could have done with Jesus’s statement, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” Something about “…disparaging the working class,” perhaps. A columnist would have raged about his “…chutzpah, his unrivaled arrogance.” The magazine rack at the grocery store would have screamed, “Jesus Manages to Offend Everyone!”
When his adversaries threw a lighted stick of political dynamite at Jesus in the form of a loaded question about taxation, Jesus’s brilliant response was: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” But think what a reporter could have done with that: “Today Jesus, in a highly controversial statement, went on record in support of the Roman occupational forces.”
Imagine the uproar that would have surrounded Jesus when he said, “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” Or, “Let the dead bury their dead.” Or, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” Or, “Unless you believe in me, you will die in your sins.”
One could go on and on. People who want to use Jesus’s words against him will find plenty to keep them busy, but those intellectually honest enough to want to know what Jesus really meant will be kept even busier. And the person who goes further and genuinely tries to do what Jesus said, will be busiest of all—busy making a difference in the world (and being happy doing it).
It is easier (for the time being) to make Jesus’s words fit one’s purpose than to make one’s life fit his words. Easier, but disingenuous and, frankly, far less rewarding.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 5/27, 2017