This time I'm going way out on a limb. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that what follows will be offensive to some. This is less intentional than inevitable, as I am about to discuss what I believe.
This man Jesus. A huge figure in my life, not just because I was raised in a religious household, but because I am also a carpenter, and more broadly because my life experiences have given me much insight on the phenomenon of individuals openly representing their beliefs, and the ensuing consequences.
Who was he? The questions of Old Testament prophecy mean little to me, as there is much debate and acrimony over whether he was the one who fulfilled certain prohecies. At a time in my life when I studied the Bible I was fascinated by the relationships between the New and Old Testaments (more a post-Jesus publishing, and censorship, device than a meaningful separation of eras, in my view.) Consistently what I found was that the texts of so-called prophetic passages were vague, ambiguous and bearing little resemblance to the meanings modern interpretations assigned to them. The prime example is the quotes from Isaiah and Ezekiel that supposedly establish the existence of an evil counterpart to God, to which on reading them (to put it into current vernacular) I was like, "huh?"
No, I am much more concerned with the man, his life and his actions than the doctrinal symbols his death and purported resurrection and ascension are supposed to represent.
This was a guy born to a royal family in exile, and his very existence was controversial and dangerous. His family was out of power and out of favor during a foreign occupation of what had been a secular, and divided, nation. Making things worse for them, from childhood on he expressed more interest in philosophy and religion than politics, placing his family and his own future at risk. Kings, especially dethroned ones, are not supposed to go into the clergy.
He had a cousin a little older than him who went around baptizing people, but he showed little interest in becoming an itinerant evangelist himself. What he did before age thirty with adult life is uncertain, but I personally believe it was almost certain he had a wife and children, as he was, after all, a royal heir. He seems to have followed his dad's trade as a carpenter (to this day not a very kingly vocation.) Anyway, he showed up at a wedding and demonstrated certain capabilities and got himself a reputation. The next thing he knew, crowds were following him around demanding all sorts of miracles. On some he was able to deliver and on some he was not, or just perhaps not so inclined.
Once, he left the crowds behind and went into the desert to be alone. Huge temptations confronted him. A taste of what it meant to be a cult of personality was very disturbing to him, and when he re-emerged to his waiting entourage he was content that he was not willing to sacrifice his conscience and capitalize on his complex status in order to enrich himself or indulge in exercises of power over others. Indeed, he told them (the ones who would listen) that they would do greater things than he ever would, that the paradise they longed for was already in them and all around them, and that he could not stay with them long.
By the time he reached the capitol he was a full-fledged celebrity, though I doubt he had much use for the fawning acclaim he received. In fact, I think it made him angry that people would rather go on pilgrimages to touch his hems than address their own problems, the answers to which started in his view with counting their blessings. One day he went to the temple to pray, a quest he had longed to make his entire life. What he found there infuriated him. Not only could no one get in without paying exorbitant prices for sacrificial animals, but the moneylenders were turning a profit with this guaranteed market, the clergy were allowing it, and the faithful outside were doing nothing to deal with this outrage.
This was too much. He lost his temper, and turned over the vendor's tables and released the doves. What look must have been on his face when he turned to the crowds? Anyone who has ever acted out their feelings in public knows there is that moment when the throng decides collectively, "better him than me", and turns away. Whatever loyalty he had gained was lost in that impulsive and frightening moment, and even one of his own inner circle betrayed him, while another lied about their association when publicly challenged.
It was not the occupiers who went after him, but the leaders of his own faith. He had been a threat all along, not content to stay in his place as a useless and crownless king. No, he had dared to suggest the outrageous idea that people's faith was their own business and not that of a cult of greedy, collaborationist priests. The authorities, foreigners all, had no use for prosecuting this man for what amounted to destruction of property and disorderly conduct. It was the locals, spurred on by the priests in a cowardly and expedient shift of loyalties, who demanded not only his punishment, but his death. He had nothing to say in his own defense. He knew, all too well, exactly what was happening to him. The mob outside even chose to free a common criminal to make room for his execution, when the government asserted that this latest popular "messiah" (one of a long succession in those days, when one fanatic after another claimed to be the promised liberator of his people) was none of their concern.
And so they killed him. Slowly, painfully, with public humiliation and a mocking of his royal birth. Few remained to be seen mourning him, his mother and his probable wife, and a few others. The rest hid, and recalculated their futures now that their leader was gone.
If God sent this man, if he was somehow different than other men, I believe his life was a warning. Not so much to individuals doing what they believe is right. That will never stop. But to the mob, the throng, those demanding miracles and salvation at no risk to themselves: You want a one-man solution? I will send you someone who values righteousness above acclaim or doctrine or status, and let's see how you treat him, and each other.
After two thousand years of Christians butchering other Christians over their incorrect Christianness, and conquering and exploiting anyone of any other faith for their wealth and resources, who has bothered to learn the lesson?
Have at me. This is, in part, what I believe. I want to see if this freedom of religion thing works.