Around 6 BCE (Before the Common Era), a child was born to a peasant family in Galilee, a region of the Roman province of Palestine. His name was Yehoshua (Joshua in English). He was often called Yeshua or Yeshu for short. We know him today as Jesus of Nazareth.
During his life, Yeshu attracted some attention as a healer and teacher of wisdom. More importantly, he was a prophet, a radical social critic, and a voice for change. He challenged the conventional wisdom of his day and confronted the prevailing politics and economics of domination that brought increasing poverty to the weakest members of his peasant class.
Yeshu announced good news to the poor. He said that those who were destitute, hungry and weeping were blessed by God—an amazing statement in any age. For Yeshu envisioned the creation of a different kind of society in which there would no longer be a great divide between the incredibly wealthy and the abject poor. He called this transformed community the “kingdom of God” or the “reign of God.” It was a vision of a compassionate human society in which God, not Caesar, was in charge.
the revolutionary reign of God
Yeshu invited the rich to sell their excess possessions and share the proceeds with the poor. This particularly involved the redistribution of land. Yeshu declared that the year of Jubilee had arrived, an ancient Hebrew tradition of forgiveness of debts and return of land from the rich to the dispossessed. In Yeshu’s vision, the low would be raised up and the high brought low to meet at a common level. He knew that when the spirit of generosity motivated people, there was enough to go around for everyone. Rather than a mad accumulation of wealth to provide security for an uncertain future, Yeshu taught his followers to trust God, to create a caring and sharing community to provide for each other’s needs, and to respond when they were called upon to care for others. He taught his followers to reject self-centered affluence and to pray for sufficiency—just enough for tomorrow. Yeshu’s image of this mutually supportive lifestyle was a wedding banquet in which everyone would feast abundantly and celebrate as a community of equals.
This simple vision was a threat to the status quo of the conservative and comfortable elites in his society. They refused to give up their power and privilege and to share their abundance with the poor. As a result, the wealthy and powerful people of his society, in collusion with the Roman authorities, executed Yeshu as a social insurrectionist—a dangerous disturber of the peace. The Roman method of capital punishment for a member of the lower classes was crucifixion, a slow and painful death of asphyxiation on a cross fashioned from wood poles.
the resurrection community
After Yeshu’s death, a small movement in Palestine carried on his ideas. His followers claimed that his spirit had not died, but instead remained alive and permeated their lives, empowering them to live without fear of repressive authorities and the threat of death. They began to live out Yeshu’s vision of a compassionate community, committed to the welfare of one another. Widows, orphans, the sick, and the disabled were cared for. Common meals insured that no one would go hungry. This was a model of God’s radical new society based on Yeshu’s vision.
Yeshu had taught them that their example would be like a tiny amount of yeast in a large amount of bread dough. Though small, insignificant, and nearly invisible, their counter-cultural lifestyle would one day transform all of human life. Theirs was a new community of justice, generosity, peace and hope. They were living out a foretaste of the revolutionary reign of God. They were making it a reality in their own time and place.
It is toward this vision that the voice of Jesus calls us today. His call to “Come, follow me” still rings out twenty centuries after his death. If we are willing to respond to that call, we must then ask, “Where does the path of Jesus lead today?”