In a world that is becoming more and difficult and convoluted, a better approach to daily living for individuals, groups, corporate entities, and nations is confronting challenges with the real rather than the ideal. This, without doubt, was the orientation of Jesus of Nazareth evident before His advent, during His eventful ministry, and as He prepared to leave the earth plane.

The historical Jesus the Christ is a phenomenon that will continue to excite studies and generate controversy for all time. This is because it has dozens of perspectives one of which is that Jesus was the quintessence of realism. In philosophy, realism implies the existence of an objective world independent of the mind, a world that is practical and material as against a world in which things exist only in the mind.

In this brief discourse, we look at the life and times of Jesus the Christ before His advent, during His brief sojourn and operations on planet earth, and His exit. This is done using the ordinary meaning of the word realism which the 2017 edition of Encarta dictionary defines as “a practical understanding and acceptance of the actual nature of the world rather than an idealized or romantic nature of it.” For instance, a practitioner of the concept of realism, call the person a realist, who is a dyed-in-the-wool Christian must accept that all sorts of misdeeds can be found in every church. Anyone who holds onto the belief that there is any church in the world that is absolutely devoid of transgressions and even acts of a criminal nature is an idealist and very unrealistic.

Pre-advent Jesus

Let me introduce a little bit of ‘romantic nature’ here. Legend has it that at a point in the Family of Heaven, a meeting was convened with God the Father as the Chairman. The main item on the agenda was the slide of the human race into chaos and self-destruction. The situation was very evident in the infamous case of Sodom and Gomorrah (which unfortunately is still with us today) detailed in Genesis 18 and 19.  Legend has it that God posed the question, “who will go and save the earth?” Legend has it that there was utter silence apparently because of the dangers of living among human beings as known by members of the Family of Heaven (see Luke 20 verses 9-12 for an analogy of how husbandmen or caretakers of God’s earth treated God’s messengers, the prophets). Legend also submits that Jesus accepted the challenge and opted to make the journey to earth.

Realism is in play in the legend of pre-advent Jesus. It is agreed that God created the earth and has dominion over it. But as the dwellers of the earth drifted and maligned the earth and its Creator, God in our opinion had two options: destroy earth the way He did twice – Noah’s community, regarded as the Bosporus region in modern-day Turkey; and Sodom/Gomorrah. Incidentally, the New York Times of 19th November 2018 published a report by Alahna Kindred of the Sun-Times; the synopsis is that ancient wood fragments with marine life were discovered by a team from Bible Archaeology, Search, and Exploration Institute (BASE) at 15,000 feet on a mountain at Takht-e-Suleiman in Iran. The discovery, still being studied, approximates the location and characteristics of Noah’s Ark (see Genesis 6-9). And the scorched and infertile earth under the Dead Sea in Israel is regarded as the site of Sodom & Gomorrah.

Realism demanded that God could not continue to destroy the earth and form new ones each time the inhabitants thereof were getting out of hand. A better option, nay a more realistic one, was to salvage it and make it better particularly morally. Jesus is regarded as a moral philosopher who came to save Israel as a microcosm of the world. The primary sample or archetype – Israel – mistook the promise of a messiah as a political freedom fighter when indeed, prophecy was referring to a moral saviour as the basis or catalyst for socio-economic emancipation and development. Do we not continue to make a mistake about God’s promises today? Or interpret it our way?

So, Jesus came to earth as a child of realism to avoid continuous destruction of earth by God the Father. His mission was to attempt to save mankind from itself. And all through His ministry, He concentrated on moral revolution as a precursor for survival and sustainable development of the earth. Unfortunately, earth is sliding again morally and physically as evident in incredible moral degeneration (probably worse than Sodom and Gomorrah now) and global warming/pollution respectively.

Immediate Post-advent Jesus

It would have made a lot of sense in a framework of political revolutionary if Jesus had been born into a family in the upper-upper income bracket. Although Moses was not born directly into a wealthy family, he had to grow up in one because he was destined to be a political revolutionary. He also had to have inside information on the workings of the leadership of Egypt for him to succeed. Thus he was brought up by the Pharaoh himself as his grandson.

Realism demanded that Jesus should not grow up in a royal milieu. If He had, it is most probable that His revolution which required mass participation would have been jeopardized. It could have been regarded as ‘their thing,’ another act by the oppressors for the good of the oppressors (consider the tax cuts in the United States of America which benefits big corporations and their owners including the sitting American President). The arrival of Jesus in the home of a carpenter and whose labour room/maternity ward was a manger most likely made the ordinary folks to see Him as one of them.

A Ministry Informed by Realism

The ecclesiastical and even the lay life of Jesus are replete with words and actions which confirm that He was a realist in orientation. A few analogies will suffice:

    As early as twelve years of age, Jesus stayed back at the Temple and involved Himself in scriptural and philosophical disputations with the highly learned religious leaders, some of the doctors of religious law. His earthly parents searched for Him and on finding Him, issued a mild scolding and insisted that He had to go home with them. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for a youth who knew very well that His earthly parents were aware of His divinity to have told the parents, “I thought you people know about my mission; please I will come after I am done with my Father’s work.” Rather, we are told that forthwith, He left the exercise He was evidently enjoying and followed His earthly parents. Verse 49 of Luke 2 says, “Then He went to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them (see Luke 2 verses 41-52 for the full story). If He had stayed back, the probability is that He might have lost some early followers who would have seen Him as a stubborn child. And the erudite gentlemen might have wanted to find out more and possibly truncate His ministry before it took off.

    The first miracle recorded for Jesus in John 2 verses 1-12 involved turning water to wine in a secular ceremony. It is so clear that Jesus did not like His mother’s directive that He should turn water into wine for people who were already soaked in wine. Very importantly, He knew the time for the commencement of His ministry was not yet due. But He was also realistic enough to know that it would be a colourful embarrassment to His mother if He rejected her suggestion. Besides, some of His later followers would have doubted His capabilities if He did not successfully execute that miracle. Meanwhile, we keep wondering why women keep pushing men and their children to do what they are not prepared to do. Does this remind us of the story of Macbeth and his wife?

    In Matthew 17 verses 24-27, some Jews enquired of the disciples whether Jesus believes in taxation. Jesus asked Peter whether Temple tax is paid by indigenes or foreigners. Peter told Him that only foreigners are expected to pay the Temple tax. This was a temptation and Jesus the realist noted that much and so said, in verse 27, “We don’t want to cause trouble.” He directed Peter to go a-fishing – being Peter’s profession – and to get a coin from the mouth of the first fish caught and use same to pay tax. That was realism at its best. Today’s powerful priest would have dared the tax collectors, boasting that his or her church has a Senior Advocate to defend him or her in court especially when by law, indigenes were not supposed to pay tax. We should wonder then, that today in the USA, the strongest backers of Donald Trump are evangelical Christians who are aware that the man is a tax dodger and till date, has refused to tender his tax returns to anybody. Christians in the USA arise and sustain the realism of Jesus the Christ.

    Jesus’ position in Mark 2 verse 27 is the summary or the quintessence of realism and we quote, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The disciples of Jesus were accused by the Jews of harvesting, that is, ‘working’ on Sabbath day in contravention of the Torah and in particular, the 4th But it has been argued by Dexter Wakefield that plucking of corn and removing the husk between two fingers was not a work and was in fact permitted in the Talmud which details Jewish religious traditions. Realism here refers to the fact that it is not ideal to be weakened by hunger or even lose one’s life just because the person does not want to go against tradition (in this case the Mishna which was a compendium of oral laws and traditions of the Jewish people). Jesus even quoted David His great great grandfather who ate food found in the Temple meant exclusively for priests (see 1 Samuel 21 verses 1-6).

    An adulterous woman was to face capital punishment via stoning. She got a reprieve when Jesus requested any sinless person to be the first to cast a stone (John 8 verses 1-11). Dave Miller argues from the legal angle, noting that those who tried to trap Jesus using Mosaic law forgot that the same law had nuances, such as the presence of a minimum of two witnesses. No two persons stepped forward to declare that the woman was ‘caught in the act.” Very importantly, Jesus was drawing attention to the fact that we should each remove the block from our eyes so we can see the speck in the eyes of others (Matthew 7 verse 5). The ideal was that the woman should be executed; the real was that the law had not been followed strictly and in any case, we should not be in the group of ‘do as I say, not as I do.’

Final Moments

As Jesus was rounding up His severely short but unprecedented ministry, He continued with realism: Some samples:

    He was confronted with the certainty of incredible torture and cessation of the physical body. He had the power to ask His Father for an army of angels to wipe out the invaders (see Matthew 26, verses 53-54). He did not, reason? It would have truncated the entire redemption process and made the entire biblical prophecy a lie. He stood and faced the executioners. And today, He has a name above all names, more invoked than even that of His Father.

    “Woman, behold your son; son, behold your mother” (John 19 verses 26-27). This was a savior of the world, yet He came forth from a woman who also gave Him suck. Jesus handed over His mother to one of His beloved disciples to be taken care of. How many of us forget our mothers and fathers, waiting for them to expire before a big occasion is organized to send them off?

    The confrontation with Thomas the disciple was an exercise in realism; seeing is believing is realism (John 20 verses 24-29).

There are certainly several other aspects of realism in the life and times of Jesus the Christ. The essence is that life is objective reality; ideals are good, but realities are what obtain. In our secular lives, we need realism to live the good life which includes keeping hypertension at bay. Why should someone hand much of his/her salary to automobile mechanics bent on ripping him/her off? Is it not more reasonable to feed, clothe, house the family and meet school and medical bills as a user of public transport than be an impoverished car owner? Why should anybody buy a car that he/she cannot maintain? Why should anyone start a house that may never be completed? Why would someone continue with the orientation that children are free gifts from God and thus have enough children to make up a football team when the means of proper nourishment and general development are far below the number? Is ‘aso ebi’ (party dress) for every party realistic for someone in a low-income group? Why should mothers insist on their children being sponsored to expensive schools and leave the family in debt or keep disturbing family and friends for assistance? Why should a church insist on building a mega-structure to compete with others when the membership can only afford a modest building? Why must any level of government stretch beyond its limit to execute projects beyond its financial capacity? Why should anybody be involved in over trading anyway?

These and more are questions for us all especially in an era of severe economic difficulties. It is good to be ambitious but vaulting ambition can be counter-productive; it can even be dangerous if not life-threatening.

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