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jesus, the quiet revolutionary (1967) Editors’ Note: This essay underscores the connections West made between religion and politics. A graduate of the Vanderbilt Divinity School and an ordained Congregational minister, West preached at churches throughout his life. This essay appeared in 1967 in Orion Magazine, a periodical that focuses on questions of faith and society. Personally,I like the plain Jesus, the carpenter-working-man Jesus,concerned for and close to the poor and common people. That Jesus was hard as nails used in the building of houses, but gentle as a child in a feeling for human needs. Pompous efforts to fasten him up in stained glass windows of costly cathedrals or confine him to solemn assemblies with ceremonial ritual have never impressed me. Empty, pious phrase-mongering unrelated to human need leaves me cold. Likewise I have scant concern for priestly religious garb . . . robes, frills, backturned collars,and such.Much of my work can be done in a pair of blue-bibbed overalls. I do not condemn those who feel a need for status symbols, phrases, special clothing, or ceremony. It just happens that I feel no need for such. For I see Jesus as a simple (not simple-minded),down-to-earth revolutionary who sought to change an evil system based on competitive violence and greed for material wealth to a structure centered around human values and need.He was a plain,quiet revolutionary who sought no outer display of beads, religious robes, ceremony, or credentials. Nor did he resort to long-winded rigmarole of pious phrases to vindicate the truth. He was not given to the use of wordy theological cant so dear to the hearts of some religious officials then and now. I think he must have been as impatient with such as was the old prophet Amos.57 His own language was extremely simple and earthy: “Go feed my sheep” were the people’s own words. This quiet, plain-spoken Jesus had most of his trouble with the leaders of organized religion, who were then, as so often since, lackeys of the political status quo, who upheld a system of aggrandizement and violent greed. Jesus 01.Prose.1-blnk 96/West 12/2/03, 11:48 AM 63 no lonesome road 64 gave priority to love and human concern. This was a radical departure from the existing socio-religious form . . . then and now.It was simple,though,and easily understood by the poor and the common people. First priority he gave to love . . . “love one another.” When human life is cheap, this is indeed a revolutionary priority. The hungry masses of all ages have aspired, hoped, and worked for a time when their bellies can be filled, their backs clothed, and decent shelter shield them from the raw elements. They have longed for the time when men can live and love and laugh in security and at peace with their fellows.They dream, love, and hope. Jesus knew . . . and He was no “opiate of the people.” This is attested to by the way he was received in gladness by the poor, but with anger and violence by the rich and powerful. He recognized . . . and condemned . . . the evil of riches possessed by the few while the many go hungry. It was no piously phrased cant when he said: “hardly shall they that have riches enter the Kingdom,” and, “It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom.”58 Nor was he repeating pious phrases when he labeled the Pharisees “hypocrites” who observed a lot of religious ceremony with great show but “omitted the weightier matters” of justice.They were “blind guides that strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.”59 How simple,how plain,how real and earthy—in the people’s own language. Jesus was always like that—so much like the people.He was different only when being different made a difference. In modern terminology he was so “square” that they couldn’t tell him from the people. He moved among the people like fish swim in the open waters.To me,this is the test of a true revolutionary,and not that he wears beads and braids or sports an outlandishly different hairdo or face. This kind of outer appearance “rebellion” is for adolescents, and so often practiced by affluent youths of our time in a sort of papa-mama protest . The real revolutionary affects...


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