“Religion is the opium of the people,” thus Karl Marx belittled Christianity. His target was all religions, but Christianity was square in his sight. Funny though, why did Nero chop off Paul’s head if Paul’s was only inadvertently serving the Empire by spreading religion that would numb the people to the Empire’s raping of nations? There were plenty of mystery cults those days, promising salvation through a secret knowledge or ritual. They had their eccentric preachers that could match Paul’s strangeness. Many were harrased by young boys restless after their tutoring, but most were not prosecuted by proconsuls, let alone the Caesar. Paul, on the other hand, is getting either arrested or kicked out, all with the police’s consent. He is even accused of treason in Thessalonica. Even more strange, he gets a hearing with Caesar. Why would Caesar bother with a street preacher? Unless he has become a serious threat.
We forget how threatening the gospel is to the powerful. It started even at the birth of Jesus with paranoid Herod killing toddlers recently weaned, to Pilate who crucified Jesus and sarcastically giving him the title “King of the Jews” and, ironically, the man who questioned truth said something true. Pilate dismissed Jesus from his memory. But in less than 40 years, Caesar tries and executes a person speaking about that crucified Jew who, it turns out, is not just the King of the Jews but the King of everything, Rome included. The message of Jesus was threatening because it put everyone in power on a watch for the true King is going to demand account on whether they are ruling justly. All human rulers were demoted to stewards in the story of Jesus. Rulers don’t want to be demoted or judged for their actions, so they rebelled, as it was foretold in one of Jesus’ parable.
How did we forget this part of the gospel? That justice is an essence of the gospel because it is about Jesus who will bring justice and demands justice from all given authority.
Don’t we forget it because such proclamation is risky? After all, where did Paul end up with such message, on the chopping block. But Jesus did say take up your cross. And we turned it into a metaphor: the cross as a burden. I have heard some say “my spouse is my cross” which is demeaning of the spouse and the cross. The cross is the risk we take to publicly proclaim the lordship of Jesus. We are risk-averse, especially when it comes to our own life. So we privatized the gospel and shaved the cross into a souvenir. It is quite safe to be a Christian today.
Ironic, and the laugh is on us now, that what Rome failed to do with their lions and swords, to privatize the gospel, we have done it voluntarily.