The political theater of Jesus

October 5, 2011

It was the zombies. Always the zombies.

Monday, the protesters of the Occupy Wall Street movement
channeled Michael Jackson in “Thriller,” dressing up like zombies,
complete with fake blood, stupefied stagger and an insatiable appetite
for money.

It was blatant political theater of the absurd.

And it immediately reminded me of Jesus, who was a veritable pioneer in subversive, mocking protest of the Powers that Be.

Some of my fellow Christians have attempted to root these protests in
the biblical texts by connecting them to social justice, and there is a
good argument for that. But in truth the most direct connection in
the gospels to the demonstrations on Wall Street and around the country
is in Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.

Much like the demonstrators, Jesus’ intent was to make a public
mockery of the government, and no one in his audience could have
mistaken it as they laid palm fronds on the ground to celebrate his
path. His entrance into Jerusalem was a slap in the face to Caesar and
his Roman client rulers in the area. He entered in a triumphant
procession, like a victorious general, but instead of a noble war steed,
he clippity-clopped on a lowly ass. Instead of entering down the
central path, he came through the back door.

It was blatant political theater of the absurd.

And then Jesus swiftly moved to more forceful, violently angry civil
disobedience. He cleared the Temple. But that is an understatement. He
strode through the Temple, shouted his condemnation of the robbers who
extorted money from worshipers and the temple tax system that keep the
poor indigent and the rich luxuriously wealthy. Then he wrecked the
merchants’ tables, flipping them upside down and driving out the
exploitative merchants with a whip.

Now, I have been critical, constructively I hope, of the Occupy Wall Street movement (It is possible to be critical and supportive at the same time). And I think these criticisms are valid,
given our media saturated times, if the movement wants to succeed. I
could argue about the a variety of ethical or pragmatic issues I have
with the movement. But on a pure ideological basis, this movement might
echo the very actions of Jesus, as recorded in the Bible, more than
anything I’ve seen in this country in a long, long time.

But this kind of political theater that subverts so directly the
powers that be came with a price for Jesus. Those people who had
jubilantly joined Jesus on his mocking, tongue-in-cheek triumphal entry
into Jerusalem abandoned him, baffled perhaps by his actions in the
Temple. His own disciples, when push come to shove, misunderstood his
last most important lessons to resist retaliation, and his bedrock
disciple even went so far as to lop of the ear of a Roman servant. And
then they betrayed and abandoned him.

And then Rome killed him.

All because they didn’t get what Jesus was trying to say to the world.

So if anyone wonders why I often hope that the Occupy Wall Street
movement hones its message and communicates it clearly, look no further
than Good Friday. If anyone wonders why I hope that Occupy Wall Street
makes sure they avoid arrests, communicate clearly and band together
with others, it is because it is a singular truth that calling out the
rich and the powerful often ends in a crucifixion.

And they don’t need any additional ammunition to justify their actions.

Originally posted at Henson's blog.