This past year I spent some time learning about the historical Jesus. Rather than lessening my faith, it’s transformed it. For the historical Jesus was born out of wedlock. His parents spent their early years refugees in Egypt, both escaping violence and also to avoid the shame of that fact of his birth and their marital status. His family was working poor and Jesus likely spent time unemployed and traveling around the region trying to find work. At times throughout his life he was homeless. He told his disciples to ask for their food and drink and to curse people if they didn’t give it to you. He was dark skinned. He was likely illiterate. He broke religious laws, sometimes flaunting the fact. He was ultimately killed because of his continued insistence to challenge the systems of government that he saw as unjust.
Homeless, poor, tramp, illegal immigrant, person of color, radical, rebellious. Jesus sounds very much like that OTHER we see on our streets today, trying to avoid physically or if we can’t to at least avoid eye contact. This is clearly a person who refused to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. This is a person who clearly got what they deserved — or so we say today about so many who would look and act just like Jesus.
Sometimes we hear in church about how Jesus identifies closely with the poor, the widow, the orphan, the lost, the oppressed. But God-become-man came not to identify with, but to be, such a person. He who could have come as a person from any class chose to come as the outcast. This is the child-man-savior we celebrate today — or would if we hadn’t re-created him to be someone else, someone safe.
Ours is meant to be a radical, world changing faith that is a challenge to all political and economic systems. It is a faith that calls us to bring liberation to the poor and oppressed. We are meant to be non-partisan but not non-political, for in politics of all persuasions oppression is often initiated and maintained, and it also can, at least in part, be challenged and reversed. We are called to work to challenge the worst, and bring out the best, of all political parties. If we are to truly serve as disciples of this Jesus, to follow his living example, we will always be right on the verge of being cast out, ostracized, or even imprisoned or killed because we challenge the existing oppressive powers around us in the fight for a more just system for the least, for the oppressed. For this is the life example of the historical Jesus.