In 69 BC, as the Roman General Lucius Lucullus advanced on the city of Tigranocerta with an army of 40,000 legionnaires, a messenger was dispatched to warn King Tigranes of the approaching danger. Tigranes was so upset by the news that he drew his sword and beheaded the messenger. Thus supposedly, is the origin of the phrase, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” However, there are others who credit Shakespeare with first having penned the phrase. Regardless of its origin, it is clearly a metaphor used to describe the human tendency to lash out at people we believe are bearers of bad news.
In April 2013, the Jackson City Middle School in Ohio was ordered to remove a portrait of Jesus that had been hanging in its Hall of Heroes since 1947. The American Civil Liberties Union had filed suit against the school, and the Superintendent didn’t want to incur the cost of a federal lawsuit. Regardless of the reason, might it not be another case of shooting the messenger?
Determining the appropriateness of displaying Jesus’ image in a public school is difficult, because he is both a religious and historical figure. Jesus the Christ is a religious figure because he is regarded by Christians as a deity; the second person of the Trinitarian God. Christians believe that he is God made man, who by his death and resurrection conquered sin, destroyed death and reconciled all of mankind to God the Father. And if we limited our examination of Jesus to this viewpoint, we might rightly conclude that hanging his portrait in a public school is inappropriate. However, Jesus was also a very real historical figure.
Jesus of Nazareth was a Rabbi, and arguably the greatest teacher who has ever lived. He taught tolerance, inclusion and diversity, and introduced the concept of human equality to the world. Even Friedrich Nietzsche, the nineteenth century German philosopher and atheist, who espoused that “God is dead,” credits the Christian concept of the ‘equality of souls before God,’ as the prototype of all theories of all human and civil rights. Of course Nietzsche the official philosopher of Nazism, was mocking the Christian doctrine of egalitarianism.
Christian egalitarianism asserts that all human beings; regardless of race, gender, religion, or ethnicity are created equal, and are endowed with the same inalienable human rights. It is the doctrine on which Jefferson based the Declaration of Independence, and on which the United States was established. It is what we refer to as a self-evident truth; a truth first revealed to the world by Jesus of Nazareth.
So in the context of human history, in terms of influencing the development of western civilization, could one not make the case for recognizing the impact of Jesus of Nazareth? Might it not be appropriate to hang his portrait alongside Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Lock and the other great minds of western civilization? I think you could make the case.
Why then is Jesus’ image so objectionable to so many secularist and progressives? Aren’t these the very same people who supposedly embrace and promote the very egalitarian virtues of tolerance, inclusion and diversity that Jesus first taught? That answer might be found in a closer examination of his teachings.
Integral to the teachings of Jesus is the concept of sin. To Jesus, sin isn’t just breaking the rules, or doing something wrong. Sin is a condition of the human heart, a fundamental flaw in human nature that drives a wedge between man and God, separating him from the very source of his life. The effects of sin are death and decay, for both the individual committing the sin, and the society that harbors it. It is a universal sickness that infects everybody and every culture, and something that must be healed. And this is where many people take issue with Jesus.
No one likes being told that they’re wrong, or that there is something wrong with them, no matter how true or warranted the criticism may be. Think about it, most of us can’t stand being told that we’re wrong. We get angry, defensive, obstinate and sometimes even belligerent. It’s almost a physiological response that we can’t control. “No one’s going to tell me what I can or cannot do,” or the new mantra of liberalism, “Who are you to judge me?” It’s the plague of our human egos, and unfortunately the bigger the ego, the more volatile the response.
Now consider the liberalism that began to emerge in the United States in the nineteen sixties, and now has a death grip on the American culture. In liberalism, everything is relative to the individual; “What’s right for you is right for you, and what’s right for me is right for me.” There are no longer any universal norms, morality is dependent upon who you are, where you were raised and what you were taught. There is no more right and wrong, if you can justify it in your own mind, then its ok. Contrast that arrogance to teachings that emphasized humility and piety, and you can understand the secular-progressive’s unwillingness to embrace the Nazarene.
However, morality is not relative, and the world works the way it works, because it works. The cultures that are hardworking and virtuous tend to succeed and flourish, while those that a decadent and corrupt tend to decay and collapse. And no amount of wishful thinking is going to change that self-evident truth.
Despite Tigranes’ arrogance and unwillingness to accept the bearer of bad news, he couldn’t avoid the inevitable. Lucius Lucullus defeated the Armenian army and lay siege to the capital of Tigranocerta. The city eventually fell and the legionnaires literally deconstructed the city, plundering it of its wealth, power and prestige.