In “On God an Justice, Part One,” I talked about the first lesson I learned from Dr. J.D. Crossan, biblical scholar extraordinaire (and extraordinarily controversial). The second lesson:
2)What sped the growth of Christianity was not the truth of Jesus’s Resurrection, but the radicality of the equality which characterized the early church.
First: No. That does not mean that the Resurrection didn’t happen. It does mean that a first century pagan would have reacted very differently to the Good News. A hypothetical conversation between an evangelist like Paul and a new buddy:
(Paul): Friend, have you heard of Jesus of Nazareth?
(Buddy): No. What’d he do? Lead another Jewish revolt? Those guys are crazy, Paul.
(Paul): Not quite. He was a man – a god – who worked hundreds of miracles before he was crucified, raised from the dead and then to heaven. More and more people are following his teachings.
(Buddy): Raised from the dead, huh? Like Caesar? Died, comet caught his spirit, now he’s in heaven working for us, right? And a miracle worker to boot. I heard about another one over around Phillipi, that tr-
(Paul): This is different, friend.
(Buddy): Different? From all the other miracle workers and gods and dudes raised from the dead?
(Paul): Yes. Completely. His followers live totally dependent on each other, and equally – they share their money each so no one goes hungry, and there is no difference between them: slave and free, Jew and Gentile, man and woman.
(Buddy): You’re saying if I join your club, I’ve got to give a substantial amount of my paycheck to them.
(Buddy, wincing): But… you’re also saying that if I broke my arm and couldn’t work for a month…
(Paul): They’d cover you all the way.
(Buddy): Geez. That’s something.
To the man or woman of the first century, miracles were commonplace. Nobody doubted the Resurrection – why should they? Those things happened all the time. What they wanted to know was: what’s in it for me? Why is Jesus’s “program” better than Rome’s? Or John the Baptist’s? Or the Zealots?
In a nutshell, it was the way they treated each other. Everyone was equal. Everyone could depend on everyone else. Christians were working out with fear and trembling the Kingdom of God, clutivating from the ground up the mustard seed they were given.
Jesus’s call, I believe, is the same today as it was 2000 years ago, when Jesus read from the book of Isaiah to the people of Nazareth:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.