Psalm 91 was very famous and well-used, and quoting verse 12 naturally sent you into verse 13. But at this point, the Devil stops. In a sense, he has already said far too much, because any reader of the Psalm knew what came next, and what horribly bad news that was for Satan and his cause. Of course he stops there, because this next verse proclaims the fall of evil forces (like himself), and moreover it contained what were at the time read as evocative messianic references to trampling and serpents.
Naturally, thought some commentators, the Devil would not want to undermine his argument by citing such an embarrassing line. Origen noted this failure to follow through. Incidentally, he also thought that Satan had committed an “exegetical blunder” in suggesting that the Son of God would actually need the help of angels to accomplish anything.
So where did verse 13 go? Why did Jesus not hit Satan back with it? It makes the whole story annoyingly incomplete, and even mysteriously so. In fact, however, if we read Luke’s gospel as a whole, that very v. 13 shortly reappears, centrally and memorably, as Jesus openly proclaimed his messianic mission. Jesus caps Satan’s quotation.
When we read the story of the temptations and the wilderness, we normally read an ending at Luke 4.13: “And when the Devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.” But that is not the end of the story. Satan and Jesus would meet again, and sooner in the story than we might expect.
When we are caked with the mud of political struggle, and tired of Pyrrhic victories that seed new hatreds, and frightened by our own capacity for contempt, the way of life set out by Jesus comes like a clear bell that rings above our strife. It defies cynicism, apathy, despair and all ideologies that dream of dominance. It promises that every day, if we choose, can be the first day of a new and noble manner of living. Its most difficult duties can feel much like purpose and joy. And even our halting, halfhearted attempts at faithfulness are counted by God as victories.
God’s call to us while not simplifying our existence does ennoble it. It is the invitation to a life marked by meaning. And even when, as mortality dictates, we walk the path we had feared to tread, it can be a pilgrimage, in which all is lost, and all is found.
Before such a consummation, Christians seeking social influence should do so not by joining interest groups that fight for their narrow rights and certainly not those animated by hatred, fear, phobias, vengeance or violence. Rather, they should seek to be ambassadors of a kingdom of hope, mercy, justice and grace. This is a high calling and a test that most of us (myself included) are always finding new ways to fail. But it is the revolutionary ideal set by Jesus of Nazareth, who still speaks across the sea of years.
If the cross were the last word in God’s self-revelation, then this first commentary would be the only possible one. If all humankind — even in its best representatives — is exposed here as one murderous treason against its Creator, what future is there but death? What is the point of continuing this futile saga of sin, even with all the adornments of civilization? If the Cross is the end, then there is no future.
But it is not. The resurrection is the revelation to chosen witnesses of the fact that Jesus who died on the cross is indeed king-conqueror of death and sin, Lord and Savior of all. The resurrection is not the reversal of a defeat but the proclamation of a victory. The King reigns from the tree. The reign of God has indeed come upon us, and its sign is not a golden throne but a wooden cross.
The practice of prayer, the practice of painting, the products of prose: all buoy us as we live and as those we love die — as those whom Asle has loved will. Like all members of our species have before him, Asle leaves his own inscrutable lines on the world, “the innermost picture inside me,” he says, “that all the pictures I’ve tried to paint are attempting to look like, this innermost picture, that’s a kind of soul and a kind of body in one, yes, that’s my spirit, what I call spirit.” And with Asle, in this remarkable novel, we pray:
and I hold the brown wooden cross between my thumb and my finger and then I say, again and again, inside myself, as I breathe in deeply Lord and as I breathe out slowly Jesus and as I breathe in deeply Christ and as I breathe out slowly Have mercy and as I breathe in deeply On me.
I’m gonna have to read this absolutely enormous one-sentenced book, dammit.
“I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!”
— Lesslie Newbigin
Is Christianity declining where you are? Is it, rather, growing in power and influence? Is persecution coming for you? Or is cultural success around the corner?
None of it matters. Our calling is precisely the same, in what we call times of ease and what we call times of struggle. And the Good News is always News and always Good. Don’t bother being an optimist or a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!
Nota bene: This is not a scholarly exercise but rather a readerly one. My students and I are not reading theologians or scholars of the New Testament. We are going so far as to try to forget what we know about the later development of Christianity. (Trying and failing, of course, but that doesn’t make the trying valueless.) We seek to place ourselves imaginatively in the minds of those for whom the Way was an emergent phenomenon. What did Paul’s letters sound like to them?
Now we come to Romans, and what a change. All of our previous readings have been letters in the primary familiar sense of that term, clearly written from a distinct person to distinct other persons, emotionally colored by a highly particular history of experience. Not so this one. The differences are obvious from the opening salutation — dignified, expansive, layered with dependent clauses, adumbrating the themes of the letter as a whole:
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
There’s no question that this is no hurriedly-dashed-off note, but rather a considered performance, full of oratorical flourishes. We might expect from this not a few notes based on the questions and concerns of a particular local congregation, but rather a highly organized treatise. And indeed that’s just what we get: a semi-systematic exposition of the Gospel as Paul understood it, in a fashion almost denuded of personality, at least as compared to the previous letters.
And as far as Chapter 8. After the glorious heights of that section of the letter — “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” — the tone alters markedly. Paul’s personality asserts itself, and we see flashes of the cranky and anxious man we have come to know from earlier letters. But now it is not “anxiety for all the churches” that afflicts him, but rather for the children of Israel: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.” And what is perhaps even more striking about this section of the letter is how uncertain Paul’s views are: it seems obvious that he has received no clear revelation of the precise relationship of the Lord’s covenant with Israel and the salvation that has been accomplished by Jesus Christ. So in the end he can only say: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
This blog has been on hiatus, mainly, but now I’m thinking that I should return from time to time. My classes this term are really enjoyable and I’m learning a lot, but I have an unusually heavy teaching load, and I fear that if I don’t take note of some of the things I’m thinking I’ll forget them. And a blog is a good way to give a responsible account of one’s thoughts. So I’ll be here occasionally with field reports.
A small group of Baylor University Scholars and I are reading the New Testament, in a slightly peculiar fashion. I’ve asked them to read each book not in the canonical order, but in the likely order of composition, and to imagine themselves as followers of the Way, this new faith centered on Jesus of Nazareth, whom we believe to be the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the whole world. But we don’t know whether we’re doing it right. The Way is quite recent, has spread by word of mouth, and no one account of its essentials meshes perfectly with the others. When someone brings to us a painstakingly-copied letter or narrative from what we believe to be an authoritative source, we pounce on it, we treasure it, we read it with forensic attention. And what do we learn?
We have all been struck by certain matters of tone.
We begin with some of the letters of Paul. He begins hopefully. Most scholars believe that the earliest of Paul’s letters is is his first to the Thessalonians, and while he’s happy to answer some of the Thessalonians’ questions about when Jesus will return, his main concern in this letter is to praise them for their faithfulness in following the Gospel that he taught to them. Maybe at that point in his career he thought that this whole “evangelist to the Gentiles” thing was going to be relatively simple.
But his very next letter, most scholars think, is that to the Galatians, and it radiates utter exasperation. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” Here we discern a note of high anxiety creeping into Paul’s letters: he can visit and teach the members of a particular church, but once he has departed to teach elsewhere, he has no idea how faithful a given community will be to his instruction. He spends a lot of time reminding the Galatians of his God-given authority, of how he was converted not by human persuasion but by the direct intervention of Christ himself. (“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”) Nevertheless, he notes, the other apostles, the ones who knew Jesus in the flesh, have heard from him and have accepted his apostolic authority. Why do “you foolish Galatians” fail to do so? The self-commendation here is relentless and, to some of us, rather off-putting.
In the next letter, the first to the Corinthians, Paul continues to fret: in this case, about divisions within the community. There are soaring heights of rhetoric in this letter, most famously the great paean to love in chapter 13, and soon afterwards the hopeful looking forward to the resurrection of the dead, but the overall tone is anxious. Paul sees this church beginning to pull apart and from the distance at which he writes to them there is nothing he can do about it. In order to convince them to heed his advice he once again beats the drum of his apostolic authority.
We are accustoming ourselves to this Paul, this stressed and determined man, confident in his own calling but increasingly doubtful that that calling will be recognized by his fellow followers of the Way. There are so many false teachers out there, so many ways to go astray. He is like a shepherd whose sheep are scattering over a vast field.
But then we come to the letter to the Philippians, and it is difficult to imagine a greater contrast to what we have been reading.
For at this point Paul is in prison, and clearly doesn’t think he has much of a chance of getting out again. But instead of leading him to despair, this miserable situation gives him a mysterious peace. He realizes that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is infinitely greater than he is, and that even if he dies it will live and thrive. All of his anxiety passes away, and he can earnestly counsel the members of the assembly at Philippi to “be anxious for nothing”: if they but make their requests known unto God, then the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep their hearts and minds in Jesus Christ their Lord. There is no self-defense here, no self-commendation, no stress — just the serenity of a man who has resigned himself to his own death, who suspects that his earthly story will soon be over, at which point he will enter the company of his loving Lord.
But Paul is not killed; instead, he is released. And when we come to the second letter to the Corinthians we see that the memory of the peace he gained in prison remains, but his old habits of worry return to gnaw at him. He begins again to defend himself, to assert his authority, but now admits that when he does so he is “speaking as a fool.” He seems to know that the profound gift of peace that he received in prison is slipping from his grasp, but he just can’t help himself. The instinct to self-defend is too strong, even though he knows the absurdity of it, when he thinks about the Corinthians ignoring him and giving their homage to those whom he derisively calls Super-Apostles, Hyper-Apostles (Ὑπερλίαν ἀποστόλων).
But whatever anyone dares to boast of — I am speaking as a fool — I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman — I am a better one: with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.
It’s that last line that really catches me: Paul has had all sorts of afflictions heaped upon him, but what weighs heaviest on him is this: I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. The peace that overwhelmed him in prison when he thought his race was run has evaporated. And maybe this is the strongest sense in which he has become a fool, ἄφρονα, without wisdom: he has forgotten that, great though his responsibility is, the Gospel of Jesus Christ can survive and even thrive without his interventions.
(I had a great time last month speaking at the Mockingbird conference in Noo Yawk City. What follows is an excerpt from the second of the two talks I gave there.)
The world really does seem different now; there are, in many Western nations, legal as well as social impediments to active religious belief and practice; it is hard to see a way back to some earlier state of affairs at which (supposedly) it was easier to believe and easier to display one’s belief in the public square. The point might be argued; but let’s not argue it. Let’s assume that there really isn’t a way back for religious believers in the West and especially in America. Might there, though, be a way forward? And if so, what would it look like?
We’re not going to be able to do this unless we are the kind of people who can do this kind of thing. But what does that mean? To answer, I’m going to read you a Gospel lesson and preach you a sermon. (Just think of it as the Revenge of the Laity.) My text comes from Luke 9 — plus the cognate passages in the other synoptics — where Jesus commissions the twelve. Our predecessors, that is. Let’s look at the basic structure of the narrative at this key transitional moment in the Gospels.
- Jesus commissions his followers, explaining to them what their job is
- Jesus does great miracles (feeding the five thousand)
- Jesus is glorified on the Mount of Transfiguration
- Jesus returns from the mountain and “sets his face towards Jerusalem,” warning his followers what is to come
So that’s what Jesus does. What do his disciples do?
- The leader of them gets really excited about being on the mountain and wants to stay there
- Later he “takes Jesus aside and rebukes him” for all this talk about going to his death
- They argue about which of them is coolest and best
- They don’t understand his talk about death and are afraid to ask him what he means
- They get really mad when they see someone else healing people in Jesus’s name and want to stop that bad person
- They also get really mad when people in a town won’t listen to Jesus and want to call down fire from heaven and blast those chumps to cinders because isn’t that what prophets do (Elijah did it, after all) and we’re, like, way better than Elijah now, right?
So basically Jesus has chosen as his followers a bunch of seven-year-olds. He wants them to preach, heal, and embrace patiently the suffering that accompanies following Him. They, by contrast, want to be victorious, receive praise, and smack down people they feel disrespect them or want to muscle in on their territory. (In the next chapter they want to destroy a Samaritan village because the inhabitants wouldn’t listen to Jesus, but he again “rebukes them.”) The contrast between what He wants and what they want could scarcely be more dramatic.
I especially want to zero in on the the Twelve’s love of policing the people they think of as their enemies, because, as my friend Freddie de Boer says, these days everyone’s a cop. In my talk yesterday I explained why I think the characteristic sin of our moment is not lust or anything else sexual but rather wrath, and the Twelve exemplify that. Rather than doing what they’re told to do, which requires being loving towards others and the conquest of their own fear and pride, they are continually attentive to what they think everyone else is doing wrong, whether it’s ignoring Jesus or following Him from the wrong social location.
This is a problem throughout the Gospels. Disciples and lookers-on alike are far more interested in other people and what God is going to do to those other people than to the state of their own souls.
- People ask whether many will be saved or only a few, and Jesus replies, Why don’t you work on entering through that narrow gate?
- They ask whether those people the Tower of Siloam fell are were especially bad sinners and Jesus says, They were no worse than you.
- When Jesus tells Peter how he will die, Peter says, “Well, okay, but what about John?” — to which Jesus replies, What is that to you? How is that any of your business?
- And, to cover the whole general phenomenon, Jesus ask, Why are you worried about the specks in other people’s eyes when you have logs in your own?
And the answer is clear: we really and truly believe that we’re the ones with the specks and they’re the ones with the logs. But Jesus tells us otherwise. Why don’t we try believing him and see how that works? How about if we
- train ourselves to bear patiently whatever suffering comes our way as followers of Jesus
- pray for the logs to be removed from our eyes
- and then, if we have any time left over but not otherwise, worry about policing other people. How about that? Can we agree to that?
I am absolutely convinced that unless we get this matter straightened out, until we learn to get beyond the pre-adolescent attitudes of the Twelve, we will not be able to plant the seeds of spiritual renewal.
Since, therefore, we see in [Jesus Christ] qualities so human that they stand in no way apart from the common weakness of mortals, and qualities so divine that they befit nothing except that highest and ineffable nature which is deity, the human intellect is seized with perplexity and so silenced with amazement that it cannot tell where to go, what to think, or where to turn. If it discerns God, what it sees is a mortal. If it thinks him a human being, what it perceives is one returning from the dead bearing the spoils of death’s conquered empire.
. . . Obviously, to set all this forth for people and explain it in speech far exceeds the power at once of our deservings, our talents, and our words. I judge, however, that it surpassed the capacity of even the holy apostles; indeed, when all is said, the explanation of this mystery may reach even beyond the whole created order of the heavenly powers.
— Origen of Alexandria, De Principiis, Book II, Chapter 6, “On the Incarnation of Christ”
A sermon preached to the Episcopal clergy of Dallas , April 13, 2016. The texts were the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7:51 – 8:1) and the “I am the bread of life” passage, John 6:30–35.
Starting with Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People in the 1930s, we have in the last 80 years or so seen an endless procession of books offering us strategies for … well, winning friends and influencing people.
It appears that Stephen did not read any of them.
When I read this passage from the Acts of the Apostles I find myself remembering Frederick Buechner’s line: “Nobody ever invited a prophet home for dinner more than once.”
And yet, when Stephen chastises his audience for their failures to listen to the prophets, while we’re told they are enraged, they keep listening. They keep listening, perhaps, because they realize this is the sort of thing that prophets do. Only a few years earlier they had heard John the baptizer talking to them in this way, demanding their repentance. And of course a long line of prophets had preceded him in such denunciations. Possibly by this point in the history of Israel listening to this kind of speech had become a kind of performance art, something that people might talk about later on and say, “Now, that was good. He got us worked up there, didn’t he? Of course, he’s no Jeremiah, but still…”
But then Stephen goes too far. Denouncing the children of Israel for their unfaithfulness – well, that’s par for the course, that’s part of the game, is it not? But saying that this Jesus who was so recently crucified, who suffered the most shameful of deaths, is standing at the right hand of God? That cannot be tolerated.
To “stand at the right hand of God”: this is, after all, a Messianic designation — see for instance the opening of Psalm 110: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” It seems likely that it was this claim for Jesus that broke the crowd’s patience with Stephen — especially since many of those listening to Stephen had shouted, not many days earlier, “Crucify him!” But in any case Stephen goes to his death, the first martyr for the cause of Jesus the Christ.
If we turn from this pivotal event in the early life of the Church, and go back in time to our Gospel reading, a moment from early in Jesus’s public ministry — here too we have a scene describing an encounter between a prophet and his audience, but this one is less contentious. No one is enraged; no one gets stoned; but the audience is, shall we say, somewhat skeptical.
(This is one of those relatively rare instances when the lectionary gives us only part of a story; you can’t really make sense of what’s happening here without looking a little earlier and a little later in the story. It’s easy to see why the lectionary-makers did this: John 6 is so rich, and so absolutely central to the Gospel, that it gets broken into small chunks for our rumination. But we need to keep a somewhat larger piece in mind when when we’re chewing on one of those small chunks.)
Now, the skepticism of this crowd is not invincible. They’re willing to be won over. All they’re asking for is a sign. In general, Jesus is extremely unsympathetic to demands for signs: as he says elsewhere, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign.” But this time he lets it go — which is interesting, because if a crowd ever deserves a good tongue-lashing, it’s this one.
Why? Because they had just received, one day earlier, a sign, an astonishing one: the feeding of the multitudes. Jesus had filled their bellies, and they liked that, so they’ve climbed into boats and crossed the Sea of Galilee to find him and get a refill. Jesus knows what they want, and says so — this is from just before our passage for today — :“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”
So he’s onto them, but they’re still determined to wheedle something out of him. “Look, Rabbi,” they say — they start this conversation by referring to him respectfully as Rabbi, teacher — “we’re not here for the food, far from it, we just want you to demonstrate your authority so we will know that you are indeed speaking and acting on God’s behalf. So what would be a good sign? … Now, how about manna, or something like manna — bread, maybe? That worked for Moses.”
A transparent ruse! And yet Jesus does not lash out at them. He is remarkably patient. He just wants them to understand the situation. They got fed yesterday, but today they’re hungry again. In fact, even if what they really wanted was a sign, they would be hungry for a new sign tomorrow, too. Signs are not any more filling than bread. Wouldn’t they prefer the bread from God that gives life to the world?
Indeed they would. They like this idea very much. On the basis of this offer they elevate their respect for Jesus: before he had been Rabbi but now they call him Lord — Kyrie. Now, this is a curious form of address. It doesn’t mean the LORD God, which is why many modern translations render the word as “Sir.” But that may be misleading too, in the other direction. That Messianic passage from Psalm 110 I mentioned earlier — “The LORD says to my lord,” etc. — in the Septuagint “my lord” is also Kyrie.
So this crowd is treating Jesus with extreme deference — as long as they think they have a chance of manipulating him into providing them this bread from Heaven that gives life to the world. Because wouldn’t that be great, to have such bread? Maybe it would last a long time; maybe it could be stored safely; maybe they wouldn’t have to row back and forth across the lake to chase down this rabbi, or prophet, or whatever he is, to get more of it.
Unfortunately for them, Jesus doesn’t cooperate. He simply says: “I am the bread of life” — a statement that means nothing to them. (If we follow the rest of John’s narrative, we see that this is but the first of a series of “I am” sayings, some of which — especially “Before Abraham was, I AM” — get Jesus into a lot of trouble. But I don’t think anybody could have read a claim to divinity into this first “I am” statement. It only seems portentous in retrospect.
This much is clear, though: Jesus is telling them to stop thinking of their bellies, stop trying to manipulate him into performing a work that will get them what they already want. They need to turn to … to him. Not to his message, not even at this moment to the Father who sent him, but to himself. (“I and the Father are one,” he will explain later. “He who has seen me has seen the Father.”)
So, no, he doesn’t cooperate. And, we’re told in verse 41, the crowd “grumbled” about him. They’re not angry — not yet — but they grow irritable. He isn’t what we thought he was. Or thought he might be.
If you take the whole of John 6 and link it to the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7, you can see the arc of the natural, unredeemed person’s attitude towards Jesus and the message of the Gospel. First curiosity; then perhaps excitement; then discontent; then hatred. What begins with the gathering together to hear a new voice ends with the flinging of stones, or, if we do things judicially rather than in the heat of temper, the nailing of a body to a cross.
And this happens because we want Jesus to give us the food we already know, already like. In our natural state, we can’t abide it when he insists on giving us instead the food that, though we refuse to acknowledge it, we desperately need. One of the saddest aspects of the Gospel story is this: only when they do not yet know what Jesus offers do the people in the crowd make requests of him. Once they hear what he has come to give them, they turn aside. They go away.
May we never turn aside. May we never prefer our familiar food, our daily bread, to the food that Jesus offers: himself. May we say, this day and every day, “Lord, give us this bread always.” And may we be granted the great, great privilege of sharing this food with others who have never tasted it. Amen.
The man who wrote “Amazing Grace” lived to be a very old man. For many years he worked as a priest in London. His teaching, his sermons his hymns, inspired many in the struggle against slavery. But in old age he said to one of his friends these words: ‘I am a very old man and my memory has gone. But I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and that Jesus is a great saviour.’ Now when we come to Holy Communion, brothers and sisters, that is what we are to remember.
We are great sinners, we live so often in blindness; we do not truly see ourselves; we hide from those things in ourselves which we can’t manage. And sometimes we try to bury our history underground. And I think here of those underground pits very near this cathedral, where slaves were once kept. So do we keep part of our own lives underground like that; we cannot face our own failures? …
In so much of our human life we do this exactly the wrong way round. First of all we look at our neighbour and we say ‘I know what you need.’ Then I look at myself and say ‘I am alright’ and then I look at God and say ‘I am alright, aren’t I?’ and I don’t wait for an answer. The Bible turns it upside down: as always the Gospel turns the whole world upside down. First, God in Jesus Christ. Then myself, the wretch who has been saved by amazing Grace, and then the world around, the world that needs my love, my compassion, a world that needs me to speak a word from God to it, a word of challenge; yes; a word of judgement; yes, but above all, a word of promise.
— Rowan Williams, sermon at the Anglican Cathedral in Zanzibar, 2007
The Judean Tribune released a biography of Jesus of Nazareth, sweeping through his life, between community supporter and organizer,and darker periods of advocating for unrest, and even violence. “His life paints a complex picture. As a Jewish messiah, he preached adherence to tax laws, but his speeches could turn suddenly vulgar, speaking of eternal damnation for business owners and community figures — both Pharisee and Roman,” said the article, bylined as Staff. “He may have been the Son of God, but he was no angel.”