In the rush to prove that they are past ancient superstitions and religious observance, many missed the real significance of the Easter season, namely that it has real social and political significance for the doubters and naysayers as well.
In celebrating Easter, many mainstream Christians also missed one of the other major significant aspects of the resurrection. Jeremiah Wright was correct in his assertion that Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth’s resurrection was not just a spiritual event, but a political one as well. The resurrection represents “hope,” eternal hope that downtrodden humanity, systems of injustice and inequity can be overcome.
It represents the possibility of triumph over evil in all its forms, personal, social and political. And make no mistake: We are bound by a socio-political-economic system that is inherently evil. It is slanted toward the rich and powerful and motivated by the most base of human instincts.
The system that looks absolutely unbeatable is, by Jesus’ example, very beatable. And in fact, overlooking the political significance of the passion and the crucifixion causes many Christian believers to have a limited vision of Christianity. This limitation and oversight opens the door for what we see too much of these days, and that is Christians’ attempt to embrace the status quo rather than challenge it.
Jesus’ death and resurrection, just like his life, was profoundly political and spiritual, as had been the Torah and the prophets before him. Jesus was accused of treason and executed by the Roman ruling class, not the Jews, while it is also true that the accomodationist leadership and the Uncle Toms sold him out.
He was charged with “perverting” the natural order and “stirring up the people.” In other words, he challenged Jewish religious-class and upper-class assumptions as well as the assumptions and the propaganda of the Roman Empire. The “Good News” was that everyone is equal in the eyes of God and that the Holy One actually favors the humble, the farmer, the peasant, the oppressed nationality, the worker — the least of these.
He was accused of telling folks not to pay taxes. Of course this was not true, but Jesus had made his point to the collaborating Jewish upper class: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and everything in it.” What Jesus implied was indeed treasonous: Caesar had no right to tax his subjects. They, not he, had labored for their living, and the earth’s bounty did not belong to Caesar but to God. In the Roman Empire, Caesar and Caesar alone was due tribute, worship and allegiance.
Jesus’ claims of Messiahship and Kingship over the Jews was also seditious. Only the Romans had the power to appoint kings over their subjects. Jesus was guilty as charged! And he absolutely refused to show respect to the authorities who, because of their immorality, had no influence over him and therefore no power.
One doesn’t have to be religious to appreciate the story of the resurrection. The well-meaning have to stand in awe of the powerful imagery and significance of a fighter against injustice, oppression and economic exploitation who will not be defeated.
And just as the radical rabbi refuses to be defeated, refuses to bow down to the State, his followers will not allow him to be defeated. Whether one believes it’s a glorified myth is not important, because his followers kept alive the legend, and in doing so they kept alive the idea that the system can indeed be overcome.
This is nothing short of ingenious. The followers could not defeat Roman imperialism head on, so they did it with a whisper campaign. Jesus did not die; the ruling class couldn’t kill him; he rose again from the grave. The Roman ruling class could not kill an idea!
The rising of a man from the dead is the thumbing of the nose at “the powers that be.” What it ultimately means is that the State does not have final say.
Jesus represents hope! No person is stuck in their genetic destiny or their seemingly predetermined social rut. No group is beyond the pale, especially the poor and landless. And the resurrection puts to rest the idea that the corruption inherent in living in a society in which money is the driving factor is eternal.
This religion, understood in the correct light, can be a powerful thing, as it was for Black folks in the U.S. in their struggle for dignity and justice, especially during the civil rights struggle.
The system is not inevitable. Things don’t have to be the way they are. Anything is possible. We can start anew and be resurrected.
Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to [email protected]