I have just finished reading Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Four Parts, and something has been bugging me the whole time. Adams' introduction to both the first and fourth books in the series includes this statement:
“And then, on Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change...”
This struck me as a particularly anti-Semitic, vapid sort of viewpoint, because essentially Adams is saying the reason for Jesus' execution was His teaching that we should be “nice to people for a change...” This portrays the executors as either grotesquely unfair, or the most bitter, twisted people in history.
For surely to carry out a ghastly execution on a human being for such a ridiculous statement is an indication of the executors' hatred for niceness, as indeed the linking of this statement and it's apparent consequence by Adams seems to indicate. Surely that man, Jesus, had something far more incendiary to say than, “let's be nice to people for a change.” Perhaps something worth hating? Perhaps His real statements appeared to tear at the very fabric of the Jewish nation, piercing the heart and soul of all their expectations and beliefs, shattering their hopes and generally raising their hackles? You may think I'm being too hard on Adams for his over-simplification, but I think a quick dip into the biographies of Jesus justifies this.
For hundreds of years, the words of the Jewish prophet, Isaiah, had been read in Synagogues full of expectant, or perhaps tiring followers of Yahweh. One day, in His home town, after returning from making quite a splash in Galilee, Jesus read these words from the scroll of Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.
Sounds pretty good right? Maybe even Marvin the terminally depressed robot would have been excited.
The Israelites of that time were in a pretty sticky situation. A foreign army was occupying their land and oppressing them with heavy taxes for an Emperor they had never seen. A long, long time before, God had promised their second king, David, that one of his offspring would sit on the throne of God's people for eternity—a king, a Messiah—and yet now, they were being ruled by a Roman king, thousands of miles away. The Israelites weren't waiting for the Great White Handkerchief, or the reappearance of Zarquon, they were waiting for their eternal king.
And now, a local boy, Jesus, stood in the synagogue in Nazareth and read those words from Isaiah. But what He did next was amazing. He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” and then sat down to teach. Jesus, this boy who grew up in Nazareth, was claiming to be the long awaited King.
Furthermore, the Bible itself shows that being nice had nothing to do with Jesus' death. After He had said this, all the people were furious. Luke's biography tells us they drove Jesus out to the brow of the hill on which the town was built in order to throw Him off the cliff! Clearly He had offended them.
He made other outrageous claims as well. Like the Vogons suddenly appearing and announcing that Earth was being demolished to make way for a hyper-space bypass, turning the world upside-down in panic and probably anger. Jesus declared that if the leaders of the Jewish community would destroy the Temple, He would raise it again in three days. This was a shocking suggestion. The Temple was at the centre of Jewish life, it was literally the house of God, and it had taken them forty-six years to build. But what Jesus was really saying was even more astounding. Jesus wasn't talking about the structure that stood on the Mount of Zion in Jerusalem; He was talking about His own body. And when the leaders of the Jewish community did succeed in having His “temple” destroyed, He did raise it up after three days.
Surely it was because of these outrageous claims that the leaders of the Jewish community succeeded in having Jesus killed. His real claims struck at the heart of their religion, the identity of their nation. Surely this was what raised their hackles; rather than some wimpy, clichéd plea that we “all be nice to people for a change.” This over-simplification of the real issues is inaccurate not only because it makes a mockery of Jesus' death, but it is strangely unfair to His prosecutors and those seeking His death. They may not have truly understood His mission, but they understood Him a lot better than Douglas Adams. Jesus was not saying we should be nice to people for a change. He was saying that He is God's long-awaited King, that He sets the captives free and restores sight to the blind, and that it is through Him that you can be blessed by God.