Jesus: Undercover Boss

Posted by Travis Threats on

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You as a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of Mine, you did it for Me.’  (Matthew 25: 34-40 NASB)

In this passage, Jesus challenges His apostles on how they treat others.  These passages are often interpreted as giving help to the poor, mistreated, or otherwise marginalized people.  Thus, we might think of missionaries to other countries or those who choose to work with people in urban or rural poverty in their own countries.  These are all noble ways of serving others.  Many people interpret these verses as Jesus talking about “other” people when he talks about people in need, that He cares for them and thus if you mistreat them He is grieved.

The implication is that Jesus is not the person in need, but others who society looks down upon.  But He starts with “For I was hungry; I was a stranger . . .”  Why is He talking as if about Himself?  Why use pronoun “I” instead of “they” or “them”?  After all He is God’s son, so surely He is not “the least” in fact he would be “the most.”

I am proposing that we also think what about before He started His earthly ministry at age 30.  His earthly parents were what we would today call working-class people. 

They arrive in Bethlehem when she is in the advanced stage of her pregnancy and is not yet officially married to Joseph, although she was betrothed which had legal binding in Hebrew law at the time.  What is important is that the law did not allow any sexual relationships while betrothed and before the official marriage.  If the woman became pregnant with someone else during this betrothed state, she could be stoned to death. Joseph was told by an angel about Mary’s pregnancy, and he did not “divorce” her or turn her in as committing this sin.

In non-Biblical writings there are references to the fact that Mary was pregnant before she married Joseph. Joseph was considered a righteous man so these non-Biblical sources state that someone else (Not God!) was the father. Some of these references “explanations” for how her pregnancy came to be are horrific.  As in all tightknit communities, there had to be gossip, probably some giving rise to alternative explanations.

His parents did not stay at a four-star hotel for his birth but could only find rest and give birth in a manger.  The specific reference to being born in a manger is only in Luke.  Also in Luke, it is states that after Jesus was born Joseph and Mary followed tradition and formally presented Him at the temple and their offering were “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” which were gifts that usually the poor gave, as the well off would present a lamb.

And who was there to witness the birth? - Shepherds from the field who had been told by an angel.  In popular storytelling, there were “three wise men” there and the whole town showed up for the event.  This is not the actual Bible story.  It was just Joseph, Mary, Jesus, and some shepherds and thus no grand event as far as the town was concerned.  Thus, the “least of these”- which shepherds would rank at the time, were the only ones invited to His birth.  He was around “the least” from the beginning.

Warning:  1st set of speculations- these are not in the Bible-

Just taking these first two facts, what are possible things for others to have said about His earthly parents?

  • She got pregnant with another man before she married Joseph.
  • No one knows whose Jesus REAL father is
  • Joseph is a loser for marrying her even though she is carrying some other man’s child
  • They were so poor their child was born where pigs and horses feed
  • You gave the lowest acceptable amount when he was first presented at temple.

Why do I think this might have happened in Jesus’s day.  Because this is exactly what people still do now.  Children are talked about because of what is perceived their mother did.  People who give the most to church often get the most honored roles and sometimes even special seating in church.  People criticize people for the neighborhood they live in, the schools they attended.

At around two, his family fled to Egypt because an angel told Joseph in a dream that his child’s life was in danger.  Herod, fearing a leader who would lead a revolt among the Jews against the empire ordered all boys of two and under killed.  Thus, from about 2 to 5 He lived in Egypt.  Egypt was still part of the Roman Empire but out of the jurisdiction of Herod.  Although there were large Jewish settlements at the time in Egypt, Jesus and His family were immigrants.  Since they had to leave in the still of the night, they could not take much with them.  Thus, they went to Egypt as refugees.  In fact, the definition of a refugee is “a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution” (Meriam Webster dictionary).  How do people treat refugees?  You cannot even guarantee that the Jewish people living in Egypt would fully accept them, especially since they were not “from here” or came with no resources.  If they ventured to areas of non-Jewish native Egyptians, it is likely that their reception was not too warm.  And they were still under cruel Roman rule there in Egypt.

A 4 to 5-year-old can sense when the place or culture around them does not hold them in high esteem.  Thus, in His early, most formative years He could have sensed that some people viewed His parents and Him as “the least of these.”

At around 5, his father receives another dream to tell him to go back, but not to Bethlehem but to Nazareth.  It is there that Jesus grew up.  His father was a carpenter and taught Jesus his trade, although it does state in the Bible that Jesus became an artisan, which means worked more than just wood.  This was a time of heavy-handed rule in Israel by Roman soldiers.  These soldiers “policed” but not with any rules of modern policework.  They were to keep the peace, not protect and serve.  They had authority under the absolute power of the Roman leadership.  As stated before, they could be ordered to kill all the young children in a town.  They treated the Jewish people with random cruelty in words and actions.  Their idea was to always instill fear for authority.  They did “tolerate” the Pharisees to continue their traditions, but they saw them as mainly extensions of authority to keep the masses placated.  Jesus would have witnessed this abusive power even as a child, perhaps occasionally even specifically directed at Himself, but certainly his parents.

As an adult, Jesus worked as an artisan.  He had to get clients, make products, and get paid.  As stated from my previous blog – The Dialect of Jesus – He was from a town that was looked down on, which is even stated in the Bible that many thought that nothing of good could come from Nazareth, just like there are people who today in the United States that similarly think what good can come from a certain neighborhood or city, from Mexico, from China, from Russian, from Africa. 

Warning- 2nd set of speculations -- these are not in the Bible-

  • Perhaps He was harassed by a Roman soldier, to paraphrase a current term by “Walking while Jewish” “Who are you?”  “Where are you going?”  “Someone stole my food and the description looks like you”
  • Perhaps a Pharisee looked at Him askew at the size or type of his offering
  • Perhaps people talked about Him that something wrong with a man this age who is not married yet
  • Perhaps He negotiated a price to do work for someone in power and when finished the person paid Him less than promised, or lied and said dissatisfied with work and would not pay at all
  • Perhaps He asked for credit from a merchant to buy materials and was turned down
  • Perhaps there were circumstances that He was simply ignored by others, as if He was not there.
  • Perhaps He got behind on his taxes
  • Perhaps He was physically harmed by someone
  • Perhaps he was robbed by someone
  • Perhaps a teacher chastised Him for getting an answer incorrect
  • Perhaps He was called a Jewish slur by a Roman officer or soldier
  • Perhaps He was tired during a storm and no one offered him shelter
  • Perhaps He witnessed women being mistreated and harmed, both by his own Jewish community and the Roman soldiers and administrators- this not being directed specifically at Him but would hurt Him to witness

In other words, he lived the life of a laborer in a time of oppression and injustice, of elitism and mistreatment of the poor, of great power and those of low regard, of those with bountiful riches and abject poverty.  He lived in a time such as now.  These have been the conditions of mankind since the beginning and will continue.  This is part of our collective sin.

The above examples are not defining moments in Jesus’ life.  He knew great love and concern from His parents, no doubt had friends, and had many enjoyments.  I am not trying to state His life was tragic, but it was not necessarily all positive experiences and thus He knew first-hand how people can treat each other poorly, especially those not with money, prestige, or power.

But “the least of these” is not just about those traditionally talked about in Christian circles.  Typically, groups such as the homeless are emphasized.  I think Jesus is talking about all the people who in a given situation could be “least.”  When my daughter was in high school, one of her good friends committed suicide, prompted in great part by the bullying she received.  This bullying is one of the reasons that my daughter had befriended her.  This teenager was not who would be typically grouped in the “least” category Jesus spoke of in Matthew.  She was White, middle class, two college educated parents, lived in a nice house in a bucolic suburb, and attended a highly regarded and selective all girl college preparatory private Catholic high school.  She had the characteristics of what is called “White privilege.”  However, she had some mental health issues and was also considered “weird” by the those who considered themselves the top of the high school pecking order.  This girl thus felt “least” because in that environment that is how she was treated. Although she did have drug abuse issues, she killed herself by a gun, one owned by her father.

We must be careful of “targeting” our help for others, claiming to be following the Gospel.  What about the person who dedicates themselves to helping those in poverty in Haiti every summer but rejects or will not talk to their son because he states he is gay.  Or help the homeless but talk about the person in church who they think dresses “inappropriately.”  Or volunteer for a center for poor unwed teenage mothers but does not invite her nephew to family events because he has been in prison. There are unlimited ways that a given person could be made to feel as “the least of these” in a given setting.

Jesus not only endured a painful death on the cross, but he had many years to see us up close and all our daily faults and even how He was treated by others.   The same people who became His followers after He had performed miracles may have treated Him with negative regard a months earlier, before He began his earthly ministries.

Jesus also experienced going from “the most” to the “least of these” when He was convicted and sentenced to death.  With the apostles, it was something to be with the Messiah, with adoring crowds.  They were attached to the best game in town, what a privilege and honor! Then He turns into a convicted felon who has committed their form of treason.  A prisoner and not just any offense, but one worthy of the death penalty.  Suddenly He is not the popular rock star but now is at the bottom of society.  He is now, once again, considered the “least of these.”  And where are His loyal apostles? 

Some were willing to draw arms, to go down in glory.  Or perhaps they would be honored to be part of the final battle between good and evil.  They have witnessed Jesus perform miracles, including raising Lazarus from the dead. It is possible they thought “Okay He has tried to play nice, tried to offer them salvation.  But now is the time to see the Messiah we have been waiting for, to go into glorious battle and defeat the Romans and all the oppressors of the Jewish people.” They, who spent so much time with Jesus, still did not get it.  He told them what was coming. 

But Jesus rejects the battle plan some proposed. He is going down without a fight!!???!!!  So not only is He now a convicted felon on death row, but He is also not going to resist??  As you know, Peter directly denying knowing Jesus three times after His arrest.  Except for John, the apostles deserted Him, now that His status has been reduced to a death row prisoner, “the least of these.”

Who else was there and what did they do.  Let’s start with the people in power- the so-called “most important of these.”

"In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him." (Matthew 27:41 NIV)

"In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. 'He saved others,' they said, 'but he can’t save himself!'" (Mark 15: 31 NIV)

"The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, 'He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.'” (Luke 23:35 NIV)

"The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, 'He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.'" (John 19:21 NIV)

And who was right beside Him-

 "Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene." (John 19:25 NIV)

Also there but further back-

"A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him." (Luke 23:27 NIV)

"But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things." (Luke 23:49 NIV)

Again, with the exception of John, who is right there?  Women.  Who is mentioned in two verses by Luke.  Women.

This is a description of women at the time of Jesus and Jesus’ views toward women in the publication Christianity Today -

“The world Jesus entered largely discriminated against women. He rejected the false criteria upon which the double standard was built. He measured men and women by the same standards, the inner qualities of character and not by such accidents of birth as ethnic or sexual differences. He affirmed women by His manner, example, and teaching. He affirmed women by His manner, example, and teaching. Jesus included women where Jewish piety largely excluded them. Women were excluded from participation in synagogue worship, restricted to a spectator role, and forbidden to enter the Temple beyond the Court of the Women. A woman was not to touch the Scriptures, lest she defile them. A man was not to talk much with a woman, even his wife. Talk with a woman in public was yet more restrictive. Jesus brushed aside all such discrimination. He astonished His disciples by talking openly with “a woman” at Jacob’s well (John 4:27). His dearest friends included Mary, Martha and Mary Magdalene. There were many women who ministered to (or with) Him, following Him from Galilee to Golgotha (Mark 15:41).

“According to the Gospels, women were last at the cross and first at the empty tomb, and the first to see the risen Christ. Peter and the other male disciples first heard of the resurrection of Jesus from women. The risen Christ, at the most important juncture for the Christian movement, trusted and commissioned women to proclaim to men the basic tenet of the Christian faith—He is not dead but alive!.”

Thus, Jesus began His life among the “least of these” and the group that stood by Him at His death and showed Himself first to after his resurrection were women, at the time incorrectly considered “the least of these.”

Now, some today seem to be practicing a kind of “reverse elitism.”   The rallying cry against “the 1%” as if wealthy means evil and poor always means good and noble.  Jesus later chose Saul, later referred to as Paul, who was a well-educated and financially well off Pharisee to go on to write more books of the New Testament than anyone else.  In fact, Saul was a persecutor of Christians.  In the Old Testament there are both rich and poor important people of great faith.  Jesus specifically talks about how treat “the least of these” because it appeared that the well regarded were already been treated well.  However, His larger message is that we are all the same in God’s eyes, all equally able to obtain salvation.  “Greater” and “lesser” people are categories that humans invented, one of the main sins that keeps us from achieving our highest spiritual selves.

Now, let me finally get to the title of this blog.  There is a T.V. show called “Undercover boss” where top executives take low level positions in their companies to find out what is really going on.  One thing they can tell is how they are treated as an entry level employee.  They also can see how the team gets along and resolves conflicts, and who is really working and who is just pretending to do so.  Jesus walked and lived among us.  He knows our possible strengths, but also our folly and cruelty.  Jesus did not do what most bosses would do considering what He witnessed, which is to fire us all! He also knows that ANYONE at any given time can be made to feel by others to be “the least of these.”  As Christians, our goal is to follow His words with all people, not just to those we feel “worthy” or some designated populations if the only real reason doing it is to “showcase our goodness.”

To end on similar thought as began

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[e] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[f] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[g] There is no commandment greater than these.”

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. (Mark 12: 28-34 NIV)

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