Recently I collected a box of old books from a former pastor friend. Among them was a novel I had not read: The Brother, Dorothy Clarke Wilson. (Phila: Westminster Press, MCMXLIV).
Wanting something different to read the other night, I picked up The Brother and piled up into bed, to read. It explores the life of Jesus, but the main character is James the younger brother of Jesus. Not only did I enjoy my reading, but I came away with a new appreciation of just how dangerous Jesus' teachings are to the status quo in which we seem to be stuck.
The teachings of Jesus pose a powerful threat to the hostility, hatred, and hazardous conditions around the world, which we take for granted as common to our lives.
The author describes the family of Jesus as always finding him different; they never understood him. They just knew he loved and accepted everybody and that he would live his life as he thought he should regardless of what anyone else did or thought.
As the story unfolds, Jesus becomes head of Mary’s household after the untimely death of Joseph. Eventually, James is old enough for the Jerusalem rabbinical school. Although Jesus had planned to attend, he stayed in the carpenter shop and arranged for James to go instead. Five years later James returned home a rigid Pharisee of the school of Shammai, reminiscent of Saul of Tarsus--rabidly radical in defense of Jewish ceremonial Law and without regard for the poor and vulnerable.
When Jesus did begin his ministry, James soon found his Pharisaical legalism conflicting with Jesus. In one instance, Ben Sirach, a student friend of James, sought James help in entrapping Jesus, as the Pharisees did. They discus the strange practices of Jesus.
“Take his attitude toward the Samaritans, for instance,” urges Ben Sirach. “As if it weren’t enough to put up with them in their villages, treat them as equals, he [Jesus] had gone on record as telling one of them that it was unnecessary to go to Jerusalem to worship, that God, being a spirit, could be worshiped anywhere. With such propaganda as that abroad how long would it be before the Jews lost their pride in the pure superiority of their race and, worse yet, refused to pay taxes to the Temple!
“And this insidious doctrine of loving your enemies! It sounded innocent enough on the face of it, but suppose somebody should interpret it as applying to the Romans! Where would the hope of Jewish independence be then. . .”(p. 263 italics added).
A few pages more and James converses with his uncle Clopas. This greedy, hard-nosed, tight-fisted business man would climb over whoever necessary to complete a successful business deal. However, he has been influenced by Jesus and is sharing with James his plans for a new community in Emmaus. He has turned the operation over to his employees and put in charge the brother of the man that was killed through Clopas’ use of inferior materials.
The author describes how “James’ first amazement at this inexplicable behavior on the part of his uncle changed to grim determination. Ben Sirach had been right. A philosophy that could make a man like Clopas not only loosen his purse strings but change his whole way of living was dangerous, indeed. You couldn’t tell where one of its strange ramifications was going to break out next. Before it got through it might upset the whole basic structure of society” (dangerous to the status quo, italics added)!
A culture committed to loving its enemies as Jesus did, could eliminate its enemies by making friends of them. It could produce a non-violent global community that could conceivably eliminate weapons of violence and mass destruction. Such a community could eliminate the need for a Pentagon and Industrial Military Complex and release trillions of dollars for peaceful means, for research and development of legitimate jobs, and the list is ad infinitum.
The religions of the world have produced a plethora of violence, anti-social behavior, and negative thinking. In other words, following Jesus seriously threatens even the religions of the world because. Becoming a follower of Jesus transforms people into peaceful and non-violent cooperative communities, all of which conflicts with the status quo which we currently accept as legitimate.
From Warner’s World,
I am ready for a change in the status quo,