“But Jesus was a jerk sometimes.”

by K.W. Leslie, 14 July 2020

Probably the Christian jerk’s favorite excuse for their awful behavior is Jesus himself: He’s a bit of a jerk sometimes, they’ll argue. Therefore sometimes (although it’s way more often than sometimes) it’s all right if they get a little bit jerkish.

Since when is Jesus ever a jerk? Well, they got proof texts.

Let me preemptively say they really don’t. They’ve got Jesus stories where yes, he can be accused of rude, harsh, thoughtless, dickish behavior. But this interpretation is entirely based on the presumption Jesus had a bad attitude: People pissed him off, so he was clapping back at them. Despite having God’s very nature, he decided to act entirely unlike himself, and be fruitless instead of fruity.

Why do they presume Jesus had a bad attitude? ’Cause they have a bad attitude. ’Cause they’re projecting their own bad attitudes upon Jesus. The gospels don’t remind us of his motives and character in every single story; the authors figured we oughta know Jesus already, or at least we oughta hear the stories from someone who does. They didn’t take into account all the selfish people who spin Jesus wrong in order to justify their own fruitless behavior.

And that’s what we have in all the Jesus stories they use to defend themselves: Misinterpretations. Every last one of ’em.

If you truly follow Jesus, you know what he’s like. He’s loving, patient, kind, generous. He’s thoughtful, not reckless. He’s self-controlled, not impulsive; especially not angrily impulsive; he gets ahold of himself so that love, not anger, is his driving force. Really love’s his only driving force.

If your interpretation of Jesus has him acting with any other motives, you don’t know him. Get to know him.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”

Every Christian jerk’s favorite proof text is Matthew 23, where according to popular interpretation, Jesus has absolutely had it with the Pharisee and their scribes, and tears ’em a new one. This is the “woe to you” chapter, and the way people like to imagine Jesus, he’s just livid with rage and bile. Here’s a few pull quotes.

Matthew 23.13 NIV
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”
Matthew 23.27-28 NIV
27 ““Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Matthew 23.33 NIV
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”

Pretty much every translation from the King James onward has thrown in a number of exclamation points, ’cause they wanna give you the idea Jesus was yelling his head off at them. That’s how popular Christian culture has chosen to interpret Matthew 23, and far be it from them to disagree. To most, Jesus is cursing the Pharisees, calling down woes upon them in condemnation of their hypocritical behavior.

That’s not accurate. The bit the NIV renders “Woe to you” is οὐαὶ ὑμῖν/ue ymín. The ue is actually a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word אוֹי/oy. We have that word in English, ’cause Yiddish-speakers used it so often: “Oy vey,” meaning “woe to me.” No, those who say “oy vey” aren’t cursing themselves; they’re expressing their own misery. Life is rough, and they’re lamenting this.

The Good News Translation puts it a little better:

Matthew 23.33 GNT
25 “How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You clean the outside of your cup and plate, while the inside is full of what you have gotten by violence and selfishness. 26 Blind Pharisee! Clean what is inside the cup first, and then the outside will be clean too!”

I mean it is terrible for them that their hypocrisy blinds ’em to the fact they’re not as good as they imagine. But again, Christians have traditionally read our own bad attitudes into Jesus’s statements, and assume he’s lecturing them. In reality he’s diagnosing them. This is what’s wrong with too many Pharisees: They focus on looking outwardly devout, but they’re not any more fruitful than before. Christian jerks are exactly the same.

Those who claim Jesus is raging at Pharisees, really don’t understand what he’s doing. He’s lamenting too. He’s weeping in dismay and frustration. As is obvious from how he ends his rant:

Matthew 23.37 GNT
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!”

He’s a spurned father, not an angry crank. Anybody who thinks otherwise is projecting.

And anyone who knows what Jesus is actually doing, but doesn’t care because it doesn’t let ’em get away with being a Christian jerk, is just as much a hypocrite.

Flipping tables, cursing trees, rude names, dead pigs, and the poor.

Moving along, we got Jesus flipping tables in temple. This one’s real popular with jerks who like to pick fights: Jesus got to whip people, so why not they? But double-check that story: Jesus doesn’t appear to whip anyone. Nor does anyone arrest him, or object that he shouldn’t do as he just did. They wanna know who gave him authority to act, Jn 2.18 but they never object and say he did wrong. Because those who ran the concessions legitimately weren’t supposed to be where Jesus found ’em. Jesus simply did the temple cops’ job for them.

There’s where Jesus was annoyed, so he killed a fig tree. Mk 11.12-14 Which strikes me as a little strange when people comment, “Aww, the poor tree.” Jesus used to be a carpenter; he had to get wood from somewhere, so this can’t possibly be the only tree he ever killed! But I think it’s the fact Jesus killed it with words alone which make people pay attention. Words can hurt as well as heal, and in this story Jesus demonstrates this profoundly—and that’s the point. Mk 11.20-24 People miss this point, assume Jesus killed the tree for petty reasons, figure that permits them to be petty… and no, that’s not the point either.

There’s the story of Jesus and the Syrian Greek woman who wanted Jesus to cure her daughter, and Jesus called her a dog. Mt 15.22-28 Most Christians realize Jesus wasn’t really being racist; he was testing whether her pride would get in her own way. It didn’t.

There’s Jesus calling Antipas Herod a fox, Lk 13.32 which is kinda like how we nowadays call somebody a weasel: It’s a sneaky, thieving, ignoble animal. Doesn’t show a lot of respect for his king. (To be fair, Jesus is the proper king, and Herod was a weasely, murderous politician.) I should point out “fox” is as bad as Jesus gets in his descriptions of others, whereas Christian jerks say far, far worse. And we often slander our political opponents, just ’cause they’re on the wrong team. Calling a weasel a weasel was at least honest of Jesus; jerks can’t even do that.

Lastly I’ll point out Jesus letting demons kill a few thousand pigs. This one, jerks tend to skip ’cause they never realize how useful it can be to justify serious property damage. It can’t have gone over well with the Syrian Greeks who owned those pigs; it implies some thoughtlessness on Jesus’s part, ’cause he should’ve known the evil spirits would’ve slaughtered them. But we actually don’t know whether the evil spirits killed themselves… or whether the pigs chose to kill themselves rather than be possessed. Bible doesn’t say. And Jesus might not have known what the consequence would be; all he cared about at the time was the poor demoniac in front of him, and people take priority. Putting people first, and wealth second, is the correct move y’know.

Lastly Jesus’s comment about “the poor you will always have with you,” which materialists like to use to justify doing nothing for the needy. That one’s clearly not Jesus being a jerk; it’s purely taken out of context. There are many verses where Jesus obviously isn’t being selfish or jerklike at all, but Christian jerks misuse ’em to defend their behavior, ’cause any excuse will do.

Jesus is nobody’s excuse.

But I hope I’ve made it clear Jesus is not at all a valid excuse for Christians to behave badly.

Oh, they’re still gonna use him. And think they’re entirely right to. The human mind is wonderfully creative, and can psyche itself into believing anything that’ll let it get away with anything. Nobody likes to think of themselves as evil (well, unless they wanna terrify others, or have totally sold themselves out to evil), so they’ll bend, fold, spindle, mutilate, and outright deny any facts which say otherwise. They wanna claim Jesus, so they’ll go out of their way to distort him first.

And in so doing, convince pagans maybe Jesus is a jerk too. That, in many ways, is a far greater problem than the predominance of Christian jerks.