Did "Men" Kill Jesus?
Yesterday, I overheard the sociologist in the next office say that it was "men" who killed Jesus? Now my sociologist friend is well . . . a sociologist. But that shouldn't lead us to dismiss her thoughts. Certainly, the idea that "men" killed Jesus is better than the original anti-Semitic idea that Jesus was killed by "the Jews." The Jewish high priests called for the arrest of Jesus and then they called for the death sentence once Jesus was arrested. However, the high priests should not be identified with the Jewish people as a whole. Ordinary Jews had been highly receptive to Jesus' ministry from the beginning. Large crowds followed Jesus around the Sea of Galilee and even larger crowds received Jesus when he entered Jerusalem. Christians all over the world still celebrate that reception as Palm Sunday. The Jewish religious leadership was involved in killing Jesus, not the Jewish people in general.At the same time, it cannot be denied that it was males who killed Jesus. The Roman authorities arrested Jesus in the expectation of securing the acquiescence of the Jewish religious authorities in Roman rule. Then Roman soldiers carried out the torture and execution of Jesus. It was a small thing for Rome to exchange the life of one obscure religious fanatic for a little more stability in a new province. For the soldiers, it was somewhat of a joke as they put the crown of thorns on the head of Jesus. Not being impressed by the idea of this man's divinity, the Roman soldiers felt little compunction in using him as a pawn in maintaining imperial rule. In another exchange, Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss in exchange for thirty pieces of silver to give to the poor. In this sense, the death of Jesus was brought about by a series of exchanges that created alliances between the Jewish authorities, the Romans, and Jesus' own followers. According to the New Testament, God himself was also involved in his role of Father in the betrayal and death of Jesus. The Jewish religious leaders, Romans, and companions may have been responsible for their actions, but God was orchestrating events to bring about the sacrifice of Jesus. Once again, there was a strong element of exchange. God demonstrated his love for humanity by allowing his own son Jesus to die with the purpose of relieving mankind of their sins. In return, God demanded that people believe that Jesus was god and that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. In the course of bartering his son in this way, God was implicated in betraying Jesus to his enemies. Thus, Jesus asked God why he had "forsaken" Jesus when he was on the cross. It is difficult to discuss the betrayals involved in the death of Jesus without mentioning Peter and the other male companions of Jesus. In the chaos surrounding the arrest of Jesus and the efforts to round up his followers, Peter specifically denied allegiance to Jesus. Likewise, nobody among the rest of Jesus' male followers testified to their allegiance in the days leading up to the execution. Indeed, Jesus' followers hid in a room while Jesus was being crucified. In many ways, the betrayals of his closest followers struck more profoundly at Jesus than the Romans or the Jewish religious hierarchy. They had left their families for Jesus, followed Jesus in his ministry, seen his miracles, and been in constant conversation with him. In the moment of crisis, however, the followers of Jesus chose life in the flesh over life in Jesus. They had never fully accepted the ministry of Jesus.To the contrary, Jesus' female followers stayed with him until the bitter end of crucifixion. Female followers like his mother Mary and Mary Magdalen never denied their allegiance to Jesus. The women among his followers did not hide from the authorities. They did not attempt to avoid the scene of execution and went to visit the grave of Jesus after he was buried. Having stayed close to Jesus, the female followers were the ones privileged to see the empty tomb. Then, the female followers were visited with the first revelations of Jesus' resurrection. Even at that point, the male companions refused to believe what the women told them about the resurrection and would not believe until Jesus revealed himself directly to them. The contrast between the faith of the women and the skepticism of the men was very telling. If refusal to believe is the human element in killing Jesus, then the males were still killing faith in Jesus up to the moment of direct revelation.The question of Jesus and men can be taken up from both sides. We can ask ourselves if there was anything about the person, bearing, message, or actions of Jesus that would offend men in general. Conversely, we can ask ourselves whether there was anything about males that would have been sensitive to Jesus. Was there anything in male psychological qualities, customs, interests, education, or sexuality that would lead men in general to be inherently hostile to the message of Jesus and therefore predisposed to kill Jesus or a figure like Jesus? Is there anything about men which would make them Christ-killers?Needless to say, the message of Jesus was not gender specific. Jesus did not make any statements that were critical of males. However, there was a radical devaluation of the world that can be seen as opposing the interests and values of males on several levels. This can be seen clearly at the beginning of his ministry when Jesus encounters James and John working as fishermen on their father's boat. Jesus called for the young men to follow him and they left their father and followed Jesus. From the point of view of Jesus, God was their "true" father and it was appropriate for James and John to follow God in the person of Jesus rather than their earthly father. By valuing God infinitely more than the earthly father, however, Jesus was interfering with the male privileges and interests of James and John's earthly father. Jesus was interfering with the authority that older men had over their sons. He was interfering with the responsibility that the earthly father had for providing for his family and he was interfering with the earthly father conduct of his fishing business. If the father of James and John had been skeptical of Jesus' claim to authority, he would have sought to revenge himself on Jesus.As his ministry progressed, Jesus began to interfere with other prerogatives of males in Jewish society. Jesus himself ignored the Sabbath injunctions and, perhaps more importantly, denied the right of men to enforce religious law. Calling out "let he who is without sin cast the first stone," Jesus rescued a prostitute from the men who were about to have her killed. Once again locating the primary locus of power in God, Jesus denied that men like the Pharisees and Sadducees had legitimate authority to judge others in relation to God's law. Implying that these men had defied god's law themselves, Jesus emphasized that they were in no position to judge others who had disobeyed God. In this sense, Jesus was undermining one of the important social powers of men in Jewish society.In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus further radicalized his devaluation of the earthly in ways that undermined the interests and authority of males. This is especially the case with the invocation to "resist not evil." If men were to "turn the other cheek," give others their cloak as well as their coat, and walk two miles with those who compel them to walk one, then they were not allowed to defend themselves and their families against the aggressions of others. They could not defend their own or their family's honor legitimately and they could not exert themselves to maintain their family's interest in lands, trade, and money. Jesus set himself even more against male prerogative when he argued that people should "take no care" for their food and clothing. The immediate target of this stricture was labor. Jesus stressed that the birds counted on God to provide for them and that people should do the same: "Behold the fowls of the air for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns." The same was true of "the lilies of the field." "They toil not; neither do they spin." Jesus was talking here of both male and female labor, spinning as well as sowing, reaping, and gathering into barns. However, the secondary implications of this doctrine work strongly against males. Because Jesus believed that people should count on God to provide for them, all the machinations concerning property were tainted with impiety. When men inherited, bought, sold, maintained, and husbanded property, they were relying on themselves rather than God to rule the earth. Buying and selling, which were largely the prerogatives of men, carried the stain of impiety just as much as labor. This was the underlying doctrine behind Jesus' condemnation of wealth in the parable of the wealthy young man and his attack on the money changers in the temple. When they bought and sold property, men were following the ways of the earthly fathers rather than the heavenly fathers. In many ways, the ministry of Jesus can be considered as a determined assault on male identity, privileges, and prerogative and Jesus made enemies of those men whose privileges he attacked or mocked. First, there were the fathers of his disciples, then the Pharisees whose efforts to enforce religious laws he defied. As his ministry developed, he made enemies of the Jewish religious authorities and the Roman imperial authorities allied to them. Even his closest male followers were willing to betray him. Perhaps the men who killed him did so in the name of all men.