Dr. Aniruddha Babar
“Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins…Is this not the fast that I have chosen; to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:1, 6).
Christmas is approaching and on this historic occasion all of us should be reminded that Jesus, in choosing the side of the downtrodden, poor, slaves-people who are the victims of system, who are thrown at the bottom of the pit-, was a radical change maker who dreamt and worked for a better world. The message that inspire me from the life and works of Jesus was his struggle to create a better world where Man will be seen as Man, nothing else but a human being. Every 25th of December, Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus who has been perceived in different shades and colours however, the ‘fact’ that we all conveniently avoid to talk about is the ‘Politics’ of Jesus and his ultimate contribution to the human civilization ALSO as a ‘Social Reformer’. While the birth of Jesus categorically belongs to the religious realm, there is more to Christmas that transcends spiritual hegemony which needed to be acknowledged, talked about and celebrated that gives celebration a new meaning and dimension. Jesus Christ was not just a religious figure but a man of blood and flesh who stood for another man in defence of human life, human dignity, human rights and human values.
Life of Jesus often reminds us of life and work of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha (563 B.C. to 483 B.C.) who evidently challenged the Supremacy of the Vedas, Brahmanism and Caste System (Gail Omvedt, “Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahmanism and Caste”). Like Siddhartha Gautama, Jesus also did not protest against the state however, his actions and teachings directly went against the established ‘status quo’, challenging the social evils of ‘Priestcraft’, ‘Political & Social Injustice’, ‘Economic Oppression’, ‘Social Discrimination’ – advocating for societal transformation in the interest of the downtrodden, oppressed and marginalized people. It is worth to note that the majority of the disciples of the Jesus Christ were downtrodden, rejected, outcaste people like Criminals, Prostitutes, Slaves, Lepers and people belonging to other social groups condemned by the society who remained loyal to him throughout his life. It is often said that the man is known by the company he keeps, however, showing utter disregard to so called ‘personal dignity & prestige’ he embraced everyone irrespective of their ‘status’. Being born to a poor carpenter, Jesus became one of the universal symbols of ‘struggle’ for liberation for the marginalized communities and stood for Equality, Truth and Justice, which by default projected him as anti-establishment which subsequently became the reason for his unlawful execution on the cross.
Life of Jesus also teaches us that he was not only just a religious preacher, a Son of God but also heavily involved in society and had active involvement in giving voice to the ‘mutes’. His open denouncement of Pharisees, eating meals with prostitutes and overturning the temple run by corrupt Sanhedrin introduces us to a Jesus who was concerned about the problems in society and was actively seeking solutions.
The government under which Jesus lived was corrupt and oppressive; political abuses,—murders, extortion, intolerance, and grinding cruelty were then widespread. Yet the approach and actions of Jesus brought new waves of hope among the people. He attacked no national abuses. He did not interfere nor directly engaged with the authority or administration of those in power. He believed in cultivation of mind, nourishment of heart and cleansing of soul. He knew that the final remedies against evil actions of man cannot be found outside him but inside his own mind which is marred by the lust for power, wealth, sex and desire for all sorts of material pleasures. Ultimate aim of Jesus Christ was not that of most modern day reformers, here his methods and approach resonate in perfect tone with that of the Buddha. Jesus did not seek in the first place to make people happy, but to make them introspect their own actions and thereby helping them to set on the path of righteousness. The conversions that Jesus did in his time also need to be understood in social context rather than purely theological perspective. Jesus did not convert people into any religion or institutionalized framework but rather he set them free on the path that he has shown to them to discover the Kingdom of God in their hearts in order to transform their earthly life.
Despite his peaceful approach his ‘open dissent’ against the oppressive rulers has been recorded and quoted by the Bible writers. Moreover, the crucifixion of the Jesus has been considered as an inevitable result of the ‘Political Stand’ that he took which attracted displeasure of ruling class which ultimately hatched conspiracy to silence him. One of the Bible writers ‘Mark’ says that the chief priests and scribes ‘sought how they might take [Jesus] by craft, and put him to death. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people’ (Mark 14: 1-2) If Jesus was to be liquidated, both great speed and great caution were called for.
How Jesus Christ was crucified, how his judicial assassination was done to achieve political objective is a common knowledge. However, let us not forget that the Jews had to pay the price as did Hindus for abandoning the Buddha. Swami Dharmatirtha has observed nearly sixty years ago:
“The Jews of Palestine gave birth to a Jesus Christ; but they crucified him and rejected his religion; and their country passed into the hands of the Muslims where Britain now holds the balance between the Jews and the Muslims. India produced a Buddha, but when she rejected his religion of righteousness, she passed into the hands of the Muslims and Britain now holds the balance between the Hindus and the Muslims. The Jews became the kingless people of the world and the Hindus the only civilized nation that is not master of its own country. The two great religions, Buddhism and Christianity, rejected in the land of their birth, spread far and wide, and now sustain the religious life of the greatest nations of the East and the West, whereas the Hindus and the Jews rank as the orphans of humanity.” (Ref: Swami Dharmatirtha, 1941, “The Menace of Hindu Imperialism”, p. 110).
Besides his spiritual teachings, social and political activism; Jesus not only changed the socio-political dynamics of his time but also inspired people to carry his message far and wide with elevated spirit and a sense of sacrifice. Life and teachings of Jesus eventually became ‘answer’ to the ailing world.
Have we truly understood the message of Jesus? Or are we lost somewhere in the ‘habit’ of going to church, listen to the sermons and doing nothing more constructive besides singing worship songs and regularly convincing ourselves of our holy, sacred, pure mind- body and nature? Can a true disciple of Jesus claims inner purity only on the count of his/her regular, ritualistic presence in the Church and church activities? One unique thing about Christianity is that this religion gives lot of emphasis on social service and activism which is a core of the teachings of Jesus Christ. In fact, Christianity is like an institutionalized solution offered by Jesus to tackle the problems in society, however, he also indicated to us that the real kingdom of God is within us which ‘if’ discovered can lead us to the right path- a divine way to peace, tranquility, liberation and justice. Jesus taught us to discover the inner reality that exist within us- the God within us. Christian way of life- if properly understood and followed helps us to discover who we truly are and what we are capable of. The way of Christ goes from ‘inside to the outside’. Christianity originally started as a social movement which most of the followers of Jesus are unaware of. Life and work of Jesus teaches us that the right thoughts, right action, right approach and compassionate heart can ‘transform’ the destiny of mankind which otherwise may not be possible by legal system and social rules. Let us celebrate the true message of Jesus- a message of Non-violence, Peace, Justice, Equality, Liberty, Fraternity, Love and Courage. Let us cultivate Christ consciousness and sacrifice our life to make this world a better place where Man will be treated like Man and every sentient being will be protected, respected and loved. As one of the greatest reformers, an inveterate enemy of every theological dogmatism, a persecutor of bigotry, a teacher of one of the most sublime codes of ethics, Jesus is one of the grandest and most clearly-defined figures on the panorama of human history.
Birth of Jesus was not an ordinary event. With Jesus hope was born on Earth. Celebration of Christmas is a celebration of Unity of Mankind and unconditional Compassion. Light of Christmas symbolizes light of wisdom. Birth of Jesus also signifies annihilation of all those artificial walls that separate us from each other. Binaries like “Believer and Unbeliever” do not stand true in the Kingdom of God where experience of ‘Grace’ surpasses ‘sensory’ belief. True follower of Jesus- who has cultivated ‘Christ Consciousness’-does not stop at ‘BELIEF’ but moves ahead to transform his stationary belief system into a ‘VIBRANT ACTION’. This view of the inner Christ concurs with the meaning of such verses as “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Col 1:27), ‘“My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!”(Gal 4:19), etc. The 17th century mystic Angelus Silesius echoed this with the famous lines: “Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, But not within thyself, thy soul shall be forlorn.” This unequivocally stresses the meaning of the term “Christ” as a divine principle within each human being.
Celebration of the Birth of Jesus is much more than what we understand. It is more than thanksgiving. It is more than Gifts. It is more than baking cakes and drinking liquor. It is more than spending money on material things. It is more than attending midnight church service. It is more than prayers and songs. True essence of Christmas celebration lies in taking a ‘pledge’ to walk unconditionally the path of Jesus Christ- a path of absolute, unconditional compassion for this burning Planet, its inhabitants and all the sentient beings and life forms flourishing in the different corners of this infinite Universe. Will you do that? Can you do that?