Christmas is a good time for us to note that the mainstream media still buys the existence of Jesus as real and divine: it’s just a given, often presented as lock, stock, and barrel. In an age of increasing disbelief, the media still has no shame in presenting the Christmas Story not as a mere metaphor, but literally true. The stuff about the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter being, perhaps, that ancient “star of Bethlehem” was one example of this palaver.
How else can one understand a New York Times op-ed claiming that Jesus was a radical who cared for the marginalized—a piece lacking any caveats from the paper? If the piece came from the pen of Trump instead of a Christian journalist (unlikely, of course), there would surely be a note underneath saying something like, “The events recounted in this editorial have no basis in fact.”
But read the following for yourself, and if you find it paywalled, a judicious inquiry will yield the piece. The author, Peter Wehner, is a writer (he wrote speeches for three Presidents), and also a religionist, for, as Wikipedia says, he’s also “a vice president and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a conservative think tank, and a fellow at the Trinity Forum, a non-profit Christian organization.
Jesus was not only radical, says Wehner, but was inclusive as well:
First-century Christians weren’t prepared for what a truly radical and radically inclusive figure Jesus was, and neither are today’s Christians. We want to tame and domesticate who he was, but Jesus’ life and ministry don’t really allow for it. He shattered barrier after barrier.
This kind of Social Justice Jesus is, of course, right in line with the New York Times‘s woke philosophy (which is why they printed it), but the big question is Did Jesus really exist? And are the stories that Wehner uses to demonstrate Jesus’s inclusivity and concern for the marginalized really true, or were they made up, like much of scripture? This distinction is important for two reasons.
First, we have no extra-Biblical evidence that Jesus really existed as a person. I have found arguments to the contrary inconclusive, and so am agnostic (so to speak) on that point.
Second, even if the Jesus depicted in the New Testament was modeled on some itinerant rabbi, can we take Scripture as, well, scripture, and assume that the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well—a big part of Wehner’s argument for Jesus’s “radical inclusivity”—is literally true? Or does it represent the imaginings of a later writer who wanted to make Jesus appear that way? The difference is important, for billions of people accept Jesus as real, and if he was really inclusive in this way, then he can be a real role model for today’s SJWs. But if Gospel is just the imagining of someone trying to depict a caring Jesus, then that’s just more fiction. Heartening fiction, perhaps, but not real. A role model who didn’t exist, or didn’t do what he was said to do, is not as good as a real role model.
And so Wehner takes the Biblical stories as real, including healing of lepers and blindness:
This story is a striking example of Jesus’ rejection of conventional religious and cultural thinking — in this case because Jesus, a man, was talking earnestly to a woman in a world in which women were often demeaned and treated as second-class citizens; and because Jesus, a Jew, was talking to a Samaritan, who were despised by the Jews for reasons going back centuries. According to Professor Bailey, “A Samaritan woman and her community are sought out and welcomed by Jesus. In the process, ancient racial, theological and historical barriers are breached. His message and his community are for all.”
This happened time and again with Jesus. He touched lepers and healed a woman who had a constant flow of menstrual blood, both of whom were considered impure; forgave a woman “who lived a sinful life” and told her to “go in peace,” healed a paralytic and a blind man, people thought to be worthless and useless. And as Jesus was being crucified, he told the penitent thief on the cross next to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
. . . Over the course of my faith journey, I have wondered: Why was a hallmark of Jesus’s ministry intimacy with and the inclusion of the unwanted and the outcast, men and women living in the shadow of society, more likely to be dismissed than noticed, more likely to be mocked than revered?
Part of the explanation surely has to do with the belief in the imago Dei, that Jesus sees indelible dignity and inestimable worth in every person, even “the least of these.” If no one else would esteem them, Jesus would.
All that, of course, assumed that Jesus lived, was the son of God, and healed the blind, the sick, and the lame.
But is this the same Jesus who had himself rubbed with expensive ointment at the expense of the poor? (Matthew 26):
6And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, 7a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. 8But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.”
10But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. 11For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. 12For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. 13Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”
And is this the same Jesus that said that people should forsake their families to follow him, and if they didn’t follow him, then they lost the road to the Father? The same Jesus who said that in the final judgment the sheep would be separated from the goats, and woe to the goats? (Matthew 25):
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ . . . .
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
That’s not very inclusive. The sheep should be with the goats! The sheep gambol on clouds but the goats get barbecued!
We have a number of Bible experts in this audience, so I won’t go on showing that you can interpret Jesus in ways different from Wehner. I just want to point out that it’s taken for granted in the mainstream media that Jesus not only lived, but lived exactly as Scripture recounts. Why else wouldn’t the paper give a caveat about the possibly fictional nature of Wehner’s stories? We need to stop accepting this stuff as okay, and keep pointing out that the Jesus myth has no empirical support.
Second, it’s a sign of the times—both the literal times and The New York Times—that Wehner recasts Jesus as a social-justice warrior, emphasizing his “inclusivity”. But surely there is a Jesus For Every Season, one whose words and deeds can be interpreted according to the Zeitgeist. What we have in Wehner’s piece is a Jesus of Portland.