Shepherd or Charlatan Part 2 - Jesus Christ

In Part 1, the foundation for social interactions was laid in that either our constraints are external, driven by survival, or internal, because survival is no longer a concern. While such a binary may feel wrong, or unnecessarily limiting, I would challenge folks to explore that feeling and try to see if there is a third possibility or not.

To show a parallel, look at the concept of sin. God's holiness could be reduced to the concept of perfection. Anything that is not perfect is not holy, and so that is one possible "state". The alternative "state" is "sinful", and while there are varying degrees of consequence for sin, it all can be categorized in the binary of "sinful", for all of it is "not perfect". More or less sinful doesn't change that we are not holy. With respect to the concepts of sin and holiness, there is a binary where one part of the binary is a single state of being holy or perfect, and the other side of the binary is almost infinite in the number of states that could all be adequately categorized under "sinful".

As with sin and holiness, survival and status have a similar relationship. The concept of "free will" is often abused and exaggerated to connote a level of individual sovereignty that simply does not exist. None of us exist in a vacuum, we are all existing in a world that is not beholden to us, and we clearly do not get to pick and choose the circumstances that we experience in life. We can choose what to do with the choices we have, and that is why understanding the binary of sin and holiness, and how it parallels the dynamic between survival and status, is important to understand when looking at the example found in Jesus Christ, as recorded by the Bible.

Was Jesus a shepherd, concerned with the safety of the flock? Was Jesus a charlatan, concerned with his status among the flock?

To start, was Jesus Christ popular? Did people want to see him, hear his teachings, or be associated with him?

Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” - Matthew 9:10-13 (NKJV)

So there are many who came and sat down, but Jesus then claims he is calling the many to repentance, which is a combination of confession and effort to change. This is counter-intuitive for someone who is interested in status, because if the first thing you do when everyone is listening is tell them "you're doing everything wrong and need to change", you're going to turn away the narcissistic and solipsistic who believe themselves to be perfect and the center of the universe.

That is no small percentage of any crowd, and is why the persuasion technique of "pace and lead" requires a would-be leader to pace the existing emotional states of those he'd like to lead. He does not contradict their current convictions, but "agrees and amplifies" them to show that he is more devoted to the same principles than even they are, hoping to synthesize the affinity that naturally grows between a people and their leaders.

Simply put, if Jesus Christ were trying to "pace and lead" sinners, he would not be telling them to change, but would instead be trying to demonstrate how he could get them more of what they already think they want, and then after he'd successfully paced the people would he start to try and redirect them to something different than what was claimed. There is always a disparity between what is claimed and what is achieved with "pace and lead", and this is by design, not incompetence or unfortunate circumstances, though blaming those possibilities helps to keep people distracted from what's actually going on.

Let's continue with another passage.

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.

And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?”

So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”- Mark 9:24-29 (NKJV)

Here again we have Jesus Christ with a crowd, healing a young boy who had been possessed and the spirit which possessed him threw him into fire and water, and shook the boy's body violently. Despite the boy calming down after Jesus' commands were issued, the reaction of the crowd was not in Jesus' favor, as many thought the boy to be dead. Jesus was demonstrating great power, and later when his disciples lament their own inability to cast out the demon from the boy, Jesus Christ replies that only prayer and fasting would produce the same result for them.

Prayer is an alignment with God, and looking at the "model prayer" in Matthew 6, we see that there is exaltation of God, confessions to God, and petitions made of God. Prayer is an inherently humble activity, where our hearts are ultimately aligned with what God desires, what God designs, and what God does. Such a practice is not something that people who are in open rebellion against God are going to adopt naturally. To pray in secret instead of in front of man? How can status be elevated among men by what is done in secret?

Further, fasting reminds us of the dynamics of survival, albeit voluntarily. Fasting is also discussed in Matthew 6 as a private matter between the person and God. To refrain from resources that are critical to our living is a way to demonstrate what our priorities are. Giving up what we could experience, consume, or enjoy as a means of trying to demonstrate to God how serious we truly are about the topic which prompted our fast to begin with, and yet doing all that in such a manner that only God knows you are doing it.

As such, neither prayer or fasting are things which confer status. While Jesus Christ had a crowd when expelling the demon, the disciples of Christ would need to labor in private and probably over some period of time before the same power over demons would be granted to them. Even worse, if such works are done in sight of man, to be recognized or to gain status, then the person already has obtained what they seek, and their petitions to God will not be considered, because their priority is quite literally their status among men.

We'll continue with one more passage.

A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. - Luke 25-27 (NLT)

Surely, such devotion to a man would be inappropriate and cult-like, right? He was constantly drawing crowds to himself, preaching to crowds, and then escaping the crowds when they sought so desperately to be with him and to hear him teach. Even today, Christianity is the biggest religions in the world. The name of Jesus Christ is arguably more widely known around the world than any politician, actor, or conqueror.

Yet here is is tearing down even the bonds between family members, in that if we are loyal to and love those around us, even the closest to us, more than Jesus Christ, then we cannot be disciples of Jesus Christ. Think about that. While many will criticize the multiculturalism of globalism, a form of neo-babelism, even here we see that Jesus Christ is providing an identity, a framework for relationship where no material relationships can take precedence over the relationship between the believer and Jesus Christ.

Surely, this must be a status thing, right? Here we have Jesus focusing all the attention, and as a consequence status, on himself.

Let's look at why he claimed to do all of this and see what he intends to do with this.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. - John 5:24 (NKJV)

Jesus Christ wanted to save people from the consequence of judgment: death.

That is about as survival-oriented as possible. While not a material death, but a spiritual one, Jesus Christ was still ultimately motivated to be a messiah, a savior, to rescue people from a state that they could not rescue themselves from.

For his troubles, Jesus Christ be executed for his heresy, and for his unpopularity with both the religious elite and the masses. When a choice finally came, the crowds chose to release Barabbas instead of Jesus Christ. In a moment of truth where, had he been seeking status, he should have been able to cash in on that and save his own life, he is instead left to the care of the Romans to be scourged and crucified.

The leaders of the era even mocked his apparent weakness, taunting him with empty promises that if he could save himself then they would believe.

“He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. - Matthew 27:42 (NKJV)

And how did Jesus Christ react to all of this?

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

And they divided His garments and cast lots. - Luke 23:34 (NKJV)

While they were divvying up his clothes, he was asking God to forgive them as they acted in ignorance. There is no bitterness, no angst or anger at how those who were supposed to be following him didn't. There were no pejorative nicknames, no dismissal of whether they were worthy or not of his leadership and guidance in the first place.

Instead of making a scene and trying to guilt trip and manipulate and scheme his way into the people's favor, he asks God to forgive them.

After his death, what did contemporaries say of the movement that was carried on by his disciples?

For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.” - Acts 5:36-39 (NKJV)

So even then, they knew that if Jesus Christ was just a charlatan, if what he said was not true and what he did was simply "of man", that by natural cycle of interest the movement he started would die out, as Jesus Christ had already been rejected in favor of Barabbas, and the fickle mob would simply move on. The speaker in that passage recognized that efforts "of man" always end up failing, and that it would take supernatural involvement in order for what Jesus Christ to have started to "last". And it has lasted.

So, to finish up, we'll look at Jesus Christ's own words on the topic, with an already established pattern outside of his direct claims that while this actions did increase his status for a time, his ultimate goal was not status but the survival of people in the face of God's wrath against sin.

With that in mind, we have this final passage for this post.

I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. - John 10:11-13 (NASB)

Jesus sought to be a good shepherd, claimed the title for himself, and even fulfilled the requirements of his claim by dying on the cross and having the wrath of God poured out on him so that the rest of us could be spared. Jesus died while being mocked, and it would not be till later that Christianity would take off and become what it is today. Jesus Christ did not seek status, but to bring about a path for eternal salvation from the consequences of sin.

Isn't that someone that would be worth following? If you don't, then pray to Jesus Christ, ask him to help your unbelief, ask for help to place your faith in what Jesus Christ has already done on your behalf as a "good shepherd". Accept the offer of God, made through Jesus Christ, to have life instead of death.

Believe in what Jesus Christ taught, and let him be the one that leads you.

That concludes Part 2, where we look to see if Jesus Christ was a shepherd or charlatan. In Part 3 of this series I'll explore the dynamics of "policing the flock" versus "pacing and leading the flock" in a modern context, though the example of Jesus Christ will still play a role. And finally, in Part 4, I'll finish up by discussing how all that is material could be leveraged for status, and so we must be vigilant in all aspects of life.

Stay tuned!