When I grew up, like many LDS kids my age, I frequently sang a primary song about Jesus:
I’m trying to be like Jesus;
I’m following in his ways.
I’m trying to love as he did, in all that I do and say.
At times I am tempted to make a wrong choice,
But I try to listen as the still small voice whispers,
“Love one another as Jesus loves you.
Try to show kindness in all that you do.
Be gentle and loving in deed and in thought,
For these are the things Jesus taught.”
It’s a beautiful melody set to inspiring words, and to this day I still feel deep emotion when I hear it or sing it. It’s a song that also perfectly conveys the current LDS view of Jesus—someone gentle and loving, pleasant and kind, arms outstretched to receive you no matter who you are. As an ideal, there’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, it’s good to hope for this gentle sweetness in life, and it’s true that Jesus was kind, compassionate, and forgiving.
The only trouble is that this version of Jesus doesn’t fully capture the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels. After all, the Jesus in the Gospels was crucified, and you don’t get crucified for kindness.
You don’t get crucified for kindness.
Rather, the Jesus of the Gospels publicly faced the powerful and said:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.”
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
“Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.”
After publicly humiliating the powerful—surprise!—the powerful wanted him dead: “When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile toward him and to cross-examine him about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.”
Then Jesus entered the temple and switched from speech to action:
“He began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.”
That’s when the powerful acted. Within days of his protest in the temple, they arrested and crucified him.
Again, Jesus wasn’t crucified for kindness or civility. He was crucified because he publicly embarrassed the powerful, caused chaos, and committed an act of protest.
The point is this: If you say you’re trying to be like Jesus but you’re only ever on the side of the powerful, you’re not really trying to be like Jesus. Jesus stood up to the oppression and violence of the powerful.
Watch the examples below and ask yourself: Are you for the powerless or are you for the powerful? Are you trying to be like Jesus, or are you making excuses for a system that oppresses the powerless?
You can’t choose both.