That’s the question Eli, our three-year-old son, asked me while reading an Easter book a couple days ago.
He got to the part about Jesus dying (how do you explain the death part of Easter to a three year old anyways?) and he wanted to know why people would would want to put Jesus on a cross. Why didn’t people like him?
It’s actually a really good question. Deeper than it seems once you start processing it.
Why did Jesus end up bleeding on a cross?
After all, his message was one of abundant life and love. He told people to love everybody. He preached forgiveness and mercy. Sounds like pretty universally acceptable principles if you ask me.
As I sat and thought about this, I was reminded of my favorite quote from the book I just finished: “Jesus and Paul were not crucified for saying ‘Love one another.’ They were killed because their understanding of love meant… standing against the domination systems that ruled their world.”
In other words, anyone can talk about love.
The question is what happens when you try to live it out.
For Jesus, where the rubber (sandal?) hit the road was what love looked like in everyday life. What it really meant to live a life of love. To Jesus, love was more than food pantries and Goodwill drop offs.
To Jesus, love was setting the oppressed free and releasing the captives from prison. That’s how he announced the start of his ministry, anyways. To Jesus, love was bringing about the Kingdom of heaven on earth.
And that meant active opposition to the kingdoms of earth.
The kingdom of the Romans and the kingdoms of the religious leaders were responsible for oppression. They were responsible for sucking the life out of people. They were responsible for a culture of fear and the destruction of freedom. And that meant – if love meant anything – that those systems had to be subverted.
Many of the Jewish folks back in the day were expecting their Messiah to institute his Kingdom be destroying Rome. Instead, Jesus instituted his kingdom based on nonviolent love – a kingdom that would exist not just temporarily to take on Rome, but eternally to take on every oppressive system until the world was fully redeemed.
Jesus claimed titles reserved for Roman emperors. And his harshest words were reserved for religious leaders who, while on the surface were opposing Rome, were unwittingly joining with them in their domination.
It was Jesus’ challenges to those kingdoms that got him killed. In the end, the Romans and the Jewish leaders worked together overtly to put Jesus on the cross – a Roman instrument reserved for those who were undermining the Empire’s authority.
What does that mean for us? How do we take this message of the love of the Kingdom of God and wield it with the aim of defeating oppressive kingdoms around us? That’s what I intend to meditate on as Easter draws closer this year. I’d love to hear your ideas on the subject.
And in case you’re wondering what I ended up telling Eli, I told him “Jesus said that we should love everybody, and some people didn’t want to love everybody.”
I think that about sums it up.