Jesus the Tough Guy

Have you ever imagined Jesus as a no-nonsense tough guy? I suspect not! Too many people see Jesus as a saccharinely sweet Mr. Nice Guy, a doormat who wouldn’t hurt a flea. Many paintings depict him as a bit effeminate, with long, wavy, well-coiffed hair and a flowing white gown, which doesn’t strike most people as tough.

That’s not the Jesus I imagine. My Jesus is tough!

The Jewish hierarchy saw Jesus as a pesky agitator and a nuisance. To me, this means he was tough because he was not afraid to stand up to a deeply flawed system. He felt that the 613 laws of his people overshadowed the importance of love. So, Jesus defied the laws regarding the Sabbath and blatantly healed folks or picked wheat right in front of the Pharisees. Jesus not only touched “unclean” people such as lepers but also befriended them, which was a not-so-subtle way of stating that people are much more important than any law.

Jesus hung out with tax collectors and even had one in his entourage—Matthew. Most Jews hated tax collectors. Not Jesus! He changed the life of the tax collector Zacchaeus through love, not the law (Luke 19:1–10).

Jesus publicly chastised the Pharisees and told his listeners, “Do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach” (Matthew 23:3). The whole twenty-third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is one condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees after another. Here’s my favorite: “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. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27–28). These words always remind me of so many bishops I’ve encountered in my life.

Jesus wasn’t afraid to go after his own mother and brothers either—he publicly disowned them. (See my blog post “The Jesus Family Rift.”)

He depicted the Samaritans, whom the Jews hated, as the heroes in some of his stories and portrayed the religious Jews as scoundrels.

He often castigated Peter and some of the other disciples for being weak. (See Matthew 26:40 for one example.) I wonder if people called it tough love even back then.

Even after he was arrested and brought before Pilate, Jesus was cocky. When Pilate asked him if he was the King of the Jews, Jesus curtly answered, “You say so” (Mark 15:2).

I could go on and on demonstrating that Jesus was a no-nonsense guy, but I hope you see the point: Jesus was no namby-pamby pushover. He was tough! That toughness landed him on a cross, but his toughness also changed the course of civilization.

I wish we had more clergy, especially bishops, who were tough like Jesus and unafraid to preach hell-raising sermons that would goad their congregations into action instead of preaching comfortable sermons or chauvinistic homilies. As Followers, we need to confront the “religious right” (who are neither), a Congress whose greatest accomplishment seems to be getting rich, and a president who is making a weak democracy into a strong oligarchy (in which a powerful few run the country). The silence of the institutional church and its clergy is deafening.

How do you see Jesus? Do you see him as tough or as Mr. Nice Guy?


Image courtesy of William Clifford (CC BY 2.0)

4 thoughts on “Jesus the Tough Guy”

  1. I have seen Jesus like that too. He never pulled any punches with the hierarchy. I tend to be a little that way too. I write “letters to the editors” of all three of our area newspapers. Actually the letters are for the constituency of the politicians. Critical “letters to the editors” are clipped by a clipping service and laid on the desk of the senator/representative. They know you have reached their constituency and that is important to them.

    Actually, that’s the only way of reaching them. A page in the office of Al Gore once told me that the pages or staff answer all “ordinary” letters to the senators/representatives using position books and stamp their senator/representative’s name on those letters. The only ones actually read are the ones that reach their constituency.

  2. Yes…I was brought up in Berkeley by avid protester parents…protesting the Warren Commission and the Loyalty Oaths, protesting racism in the South by collecting money to send students and others to sit in in cafeterias with members of the black community and to send students to protect black children during school integration, the Vietnam war etc. I am still an avid protester. I believe in what Jesus taught us which is to stand up for what is right, support one another, and love and justice for everyone. I still love the 60’s chant…Make Love Not War.


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