Monday, September 14, 2009

The alternative to Jesus causing a riot in the temple?

This post is dedicated to my friend Sally.

Some days I wake up, thinking the thing I need to do is to go into every gathering of people I can find, flip everything that isn't nailed down upside down, and berate all of them about how they're all already walking around half-dead, and if they don't start thinking and questioning the world around them, they're going to be all the way dead. And soon.

I know you view this with a bit of horror. And I do, too. Obviously, I'm not going to do any of this. This blog is about the only vehicle I have to do something similar. And since no one reads it yet, it isn't going to do much.

I'm reminded of a man who did similar things. You can find this story in any Bible. My favorite is the telling in the Gospel of John (2:12-25), but the story is told in all four Gospels. Apparently the religious leaders in Jerusalem didn't want to accept Roman money, so the faithful had to convert their money into shekels so they could donate to the temple. The money changers, therefore, set up shop right there in the outskirts of the temple. And, of course, they made a tidy profit off of the money that was supposed to be going to glorify God.

This understandably incensed Jesus (being God himself, as you usually believe when you are a Christian), so he flipped everything not-nailed-down upside down and beat as many moneychangers as he could halfway to death. Then he said something like "Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father's house into a shopping mall!"* The Jews responded, something like, "WTF? Who the hell do you think you are?" Jesus said instead, "Tear down this Temple and in three days I'll put it back together."*

Imagine what would've happened if Jesus had tried to do that today. There would be a standoff as one of the moneychangers dialed 911. Next thing you know, there's 15 guys in SWAT gear outside the temple. If Jesus survives long enough, the next thing you know they send in a negotiator. Jesus probably rants at him the way he is known to rant. The negotiator nods to himself, satisfied that Jesus is certifiably insane. A tranqulizer dart emerges from nowhere and pierces Jesus in the throat.

Jesus awakes in the acute psychiatric ward of the county hospital, struggling to understand where he is in a thorazine-induced haze. Eventually he figures out that to get out of where he is he has to cooperate with his captors. He "levels up"** until he is in the standard ward, where he meets with a social worker and a court-appointed lawyer. He learns that he made quite a showing on the 11 o' clock news and the blogosphere, but in the weeks since he was captured everyone seems to have forgotten about it.

His social worker and lawyer inform him that he could be charged with all kinds of stuff, but if he submits to the wishes of the doctors and takes the drugs they prescribe as ordered, he will merely have to endure "community supervision" indefinitely. He would also have to submit to electronic monitoring, random drug testing, and all sorts of other court proceedings. Finally, he had to stay away from that group of 12 troublemakers he has been recently associated with. If he failed to comply, he would be charged with several counts of felony assault and malicious mischief and face a few years in prison.

Jesus considers, thinking as best he can that if he could stay out of prison, maybe he could find a way to circumvent these orders. But because of the heavy doses of atypical antipsychotics they placed him on (Jesus remembers the word "Zyprexa"), he can't for the life of him remember what he was originally trying to do.

We now see Jesus six months later. He has gained 100 pounds from taking the Zyprexa. He has become diabetic, so he now has to take Metformin and some other drug he doesn't remember. He's sitting on a friend's couch in an increasingly ill-fitting robe, watching "The Rachel Maddow Show" or some damn thing. He's not really sure what she's going on about, but the noises and flashing images from the box soothe him strangely. A tear slowly rolls down his cheek, as he remembers vaguely that he was trying to save the world.

"Oh well," he half-sadly thinks to himself, "this world probably doesn't deserved to be saved."

He might be right. In any case, God coming to us in the form of a man isn't going to work this time. He might have tried to do that again--if so, he's probably stumbling around with antipsychotic-induced Parkinsonism somewhere among us.

No, we laughed him off the first time, and his tactic of becoming one of us and suffering and dying obviously didn't take very well. We spat on his gift and turned it into death. It's going to take something different this time.

*These quotes are from Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of the Bible called The Message.

**To explain this, most inpatient psychiatric hospitals use something called the "level system" to control patient behavior and offer incentives for participating in group therapy. You usually start at level 1, where you cannot leave the ward. If you are in an acute ward, it might mean that you must be restrained and cannot leave your room. As you comply, you gain levels giving you more privileges. If you step out of line, you lose levels.

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