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"Christ the King:" How Jesus Became Donald Trump

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Readings for the feast of "Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe": 2 SM 5: 1-3, PS 122: 1-5; COL 1: 12-20; LK 23: 35-43.

Do you ever wonder how U.S. Christians were able to elect a man like Donald Trump?

After all, Trump represents the polar opposite of the values embodied in Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, Jesus was the kind of person Donald Trump and his supporters actually hate.

I mean, the Nazarene was poor, dark skinned, the son of an unwed teenage mother, and an immigrant in Egypt. Jesus was viscerally opposed to an empire very like the United States. And that empire (Rome) executed him as a terrorist. Jesus ended up on death row and finished as a victim of torture and capital punishment. To repeat, Trump and the Republicans hate people like that. They want Middle Easterners like Jesus out of their country at best, and dead at worst.

Again, how could followers of Jesus elect his sworn enemy?

The readings for today's feast of "Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe" provide the answer. They explain what might be termed the great "makeover" of Jesus of Nazareth changing him from the leader of an anti-imperial revolutionary movement into a pillar supporting the very institutions that assassinated him.

In other words: through 4th century sleight of hand, the Jesus who sided with the poor and those oppressed by empire was made to switch sides. He was co-opted and domesticated kicked upstairs into the royal class. He became not only a patron of the Roman Empire, but a "king" complete with crown, purple robes, scepter and fawning courtiers.

Reza Aslan's best-seller, Zealot, explains the process in detail. The book centralizes today's account of Jesus' crucifixion in Luke, Chapter 23. There, Aslan pays particular attention to (1) Jesus' cross, (2) to the Roman inscription identifying Jesus as "King of the Jews," and (3) to the dialog between Jesus and the two "thieves" presented as sharing his fate.

Take the cross first. It was the mode of execution reserved primarily for insurrectionists against the Roman occupation of Palestine. The fact that Jesus was crucified indicates that the Romans believed him to be a revolutionary terrorist. Aslan asks, how could it have been otherwise? After all, Jesus was widely considered the "messiah" i.e. as the one, like David in today's first reading, expected to lead "The War" against Israel's oppressors.

Moreover, Jesus proclaimed the "Kingdom of God," a highly politicized metaphor which could only be understood as an alternative to Roman rule. It would return Israel, Jesus himself promised, to Yahweh's governance and accord primacy to the poor and marginalized. The Romans drew logical conclusions. Put otherwise, the Roman cross itself provides bloody testimony to the radical threat the empire saw personified in Jesus.

That threat was made specific in the inscription the Romans placed over the head of the crucified Jesus. It read, "King of the Jews."

Typically, those words are interpreted as a cruel joke by the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate as if he were simply poking fun at those who saw Jesus as the worthy successor of Israel's beloved King David.

However, according to Reza Aslan, nothing humorous was intended by the inscription. Instead it was a titulus. Every victim of crucifixion had one a statement of the reason for his execution. The motive for Jesus' crucifixion was the same as for the many others among his contemporaries who were executed for the same crime: aspiring to replace Roman rule with home rule with an Israel governed by Jews instead of Romans. The titulus on Jesus' cross, along with the cross itself identify him as the antithesis of what he eventually became, a Roman tool.

And then there are those two thieves. Aslan says they weren't "thieves" at all. That's a mistranslation, he points out. A better translation of the Greek word, lestai , would be "bandits" the common designation in the first century for insurrectionists. And there probably weren't just two others crucified the day Jesus was assassinated. There may have been a dozen or more.

In this context the dialog between Jesus and two of the terrorists crucified with him takes on great significance. Actually, it documents the beginning of the process I described of changing Jesus' image from insurrectionist to depoliticized teacher.

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Retired in 2014, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program.Mike blogs (more...)
 

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6 people are discussing this page, with 14 comments  Post Comment


Mike Rivage-Seul

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The picture at the head of this article says it all. It illustrates perfectly the domestication of Jesus -- not merely with Donald Trump, but since even before the 4th century C.E. It was then that Constantine struck the same Trumpian pose. His visual took the form of a cross painted on a Roman shield with the sub-scription, "In hoc signo vinces."

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 24, 2019 at 10:00:02 AM

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Excellent article.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 24, 2019 at 5:01:21 PM

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Michael Dewey

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Perfect Article for these times. My question today would be like, "Why would an old hippy ever want to turn into something like the Pope?" (As side, do like today's Pope.)


Been wondering for decades about them who wait for another 45 days somewhere near end of Daniel 12.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 24, 2019 at 10:50:42 PM

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MIchael, I believe he's trying to save the church (and Jesus) from the centuries-old sell-out I've described in this homily. Francis' answer to the question, "WWJD?" is: he'd stand with the poor against their oppression by the imperial forces responsible for his death. He'd still preach the word that another world (the Kingdom of God) is possible and we'd damn well better do our best to introduce it.

Submitted on Monday, Nov 25, 2019 at 1:20:00 AM

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Think so too. Since hearing Natives call it the great spirit been calling them the great spirits. Church has good foundation to take care of many social needs in much better fashion than what many do try. Enough of the words from them instead feed the people until no hungry no more and open lots of not for profit health clinics, and soon enough prisoners be getting paid to teach English, learning Spanish on farms.

Submitted on Monday, Nov 25, 2019 at 4:49:44 AM

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Jesus never sought a medical or psychological deferment. Trump did.

Jesus never married and divorced gold-diggers. Trump did.

Jesus never walked on a frozen ice rink. Trump did.

Jesus never partied with Jeff Epstein. Trump did.


Submitted on Monday, Nov 25, 2019 at 11:03:35 AM

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Trump?!!

Submitted on Monday, Nov 25, 2019 at 1:07:35 PM

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911TRUTH

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Just yesterday Rick Perry called trump "The Chosen One" and over the summer, when asked if trump was sent by God to save Israel, Pompeo said, "I think that's entirely possible" instead of giving the correct answer of, "No, that is bat sh*t crazy."

If this doesn't terrify you, nothing will.

Submitted on Monday, Nov 25, 2019 at 4:12:17 PM

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I join you in your terror! It all makes one wonder about religion itself. Still, I think there's an awful lot of value to be rescued there -- huge potential for stimulating movements for liberation and well-being. Problem is: that potential has been captured by the right and ignored and denigrated by the left -- to its own great detriment.

Submitted on Monday, Nov 25, 2019 at 5:41:50 PM

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Richard Pietrasz

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I figured out these basic facts a long time ago.


Almost all Christian churches are about authority, and not the teachings of Jesus. The key to heaven is not good works, it is about obeying the master. The Good Samaritan need not apply, and many other New Testament teachings are ignored too.


Almost every religious denomination and sect in USA has actively supported its wars of conquest and massive kill of civilians by one means or another.

Submitted on Monday, Nov 25, 2019 at 10:22:33 PM

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Recall John Lennon saying they had wanted to make "the message" contemporary and pretty much did with their love songs. The new of kind of religion in Black Velvet with a slow southern style if you know the tune.


Do hope much "mind their own business religions" take care of many social needs rather than looking towards DC to fix what they broke.

Submitted on Monday, Nov 25, 2019 at 11:46:38 PM

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I agree with everything you say here, Richard. In that light, I found encouraging yesterday's statement by Pope Francis that possession of nuclear weapons is immoral and contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Francis is a breath of fresh air -- at last!

Submitted on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2019 at 3:58:18 AM

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That is a step in the right direction. But, he could take direct action when it comes to the many hot wars USA is waging. The RC Church is authoritarian, like the US military, and the Pope could order his military chaplains to preach "thou shalt not kill"*, and when prescribing penance when giving Confession, make part of that penance to make war no more.

Another thing the Pope can do is make a strong argument against the use of the "just war" argument to justify wars we know to be unjust. And, for added emphasis he could deal with Cardinal Edwin O'Brien to publicly confess and apologize for O'Brien's strong support for multiple wars (including one against country with a large Catholic population, Vietnam). If O'Brien cannot be convinced, the Pope could take direct action, such as relieving O'Brien of remaining duties and stripping him of his Cardinal title.

*A Unitarian chaplain, Chris Antal, did just that after receiving an epiphany from God or conscience while in Afghanistan. He was fired, of course, and shipped home, but he was not court-martialed or anything like that. BTW, US military personnel are allowed to refuse to war due to moral or legal reasons, and while they may end up with feces duty (literally) and/or be fired, that is likely about it as long as they don't spill the beans about classified material ((that likely should not be classified) or shoot up his own people (at least those not named Pat Tillman).

Submitted on Wednesday, Nov 27, 2019 at 1:36:55 AM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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I agree and have been hoping for a long time that the pope would publish a strong encyclical covering the points you articulate here. There's still time.

Submitted on Wednesday, Nov 27, 2019 at 4:32:24 AM

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