Easter Without Hindsight: Jesus, if you don’t know how the story ends
Whenever the Easter story is told these days we listen knowing how the story ended. We live after Jesus’ death so, whatever we might believe about Jesus’ life or death, we know that he lived in the Holy Land and was crucified by the Romans. We know that the Christian churches think he rose from the dead, even if they argue about whether that is literal or metaphorical. Even the name we know him by now, Jesus Christ, assumes we know the end of the story. ‘Jesus’ is from his Greek name, ‘Christ’ is from the Greek word for the Hebrew title, messiah, which translates into English as ‘Anointed’ or ‘Chosen One’.
We also know that he drew multitudes to risk their lives to find him, to listen to him, to be healed by him and follow him.
So how did that movement become yet another religion?
Part of the answer might be our viewpoint. Look at Jesus though the eyes of the religious in our time (Christian, non-Christian, pagan, deist or atheist) and you mostly see Jesus with hindsight. So what changes if we look at Jesus with the eyes of the people who were in Jerusalem with him when he died?
Some of the religious and the Judean nationalists, who were looking for messiah, thought they knew what Jesus was planning and were ready to fight for him. Others who thought the same were determined to stop him. Or was Jesus’ way of being messiah something completely different?
Many people though (the ancestors of today’s “worrying classes” perhaps?) were just trying to cope with the eternal constants of any age: feed the kids and keep a roof over their heads. Jesus’ contemporaries lived under Roman military occupation in an age with little medicine or pain relief. Violence, storm, drought, pain, plague and famine were facts of life.
They were also ruled by foreigners who extracted as much wealth from them as possible without actually making them destitute enough to revolt. The governing authorities were often corrupt, making protest potentially life threatening. Many in the 21st Century know exactly how that feels. Even if you might get justice in the next world sometimes the best you get here and now is the law. What had God (or the Romans!) ever done for them? So when Jesus seemed to have the authority to offer healing, mercy and justice in this world some people dropped almost everything to listen.
Over the weeks till Easter we’ll look at this Galilean rabbi through the eyes of people who lived with him and had no idea how his story would finish. We’ll look through the eyes of the workers and traders, the wealthy, the religious, the worthies, the terrorists and the outcasts. We will also see him through the eyes of the foreigners who were just trying to keep the peace and take the money. What did they think Jeshua ben Joseph, to give him his Hebrew name, was about?