Saturday, December 16, 2006

    The Rebel Jesus

    Every couple of years, I take the opportunity during Advent to share with my youth a song by Jackson Browne entitled "The Rebel Jesus." The song was originally recorded for Browne's 1991 holiday album with The Chieftains entitled The Bells of Dublin. In many ways, it offers an antidote to the sickly-sweet protrait of Jesus that we often foist onto our children as they are growing up and counteracts the way commerical culture uses Jesus this time of year as a shill for holiday shopping excess. I want my students to understand that Jesus was more than just "a nice guy" and more than an excuse to justify and feed our out-of-control consumer culture.

    At a time in their lives when they are questioning everything, particularly authority, a portrait of Jesus as a rebel and radical taps into those emotion centers of the teenage brain that are working full-throttle. Jesus hung out with all the wrong people, had all the wrong politics, threatened the status quo, and wasn't afraid to love wastefully. That's the sort of Jesus I want my youth to follow. Here are the lyrics to this haunting tune (you can listen to it for free here and for some interesting background on the ad campaign that developed the image of Jesus above, go here):

    All the streets are filled with laughter and light
    And the music of the season
    And the merchants' windows are all bright
    With the faces of the children
    And the families hurrying to their homes
    As the sky darkens and freezes
    Will be gathering around the hearths and tables
    Giving thanks for God's graces
    And the birth of the rebel Jesus

    Well they call him by 'the Prince of Peace'
    And they call him by 'the Savior'
    And they pray to him upon the seas
    And in every bold endeavor
    And they fill his churches with their pride and gold
    As their faith in him increases
    But they've turned the nature that I worship in
    From a temple to a robber's den
    In the words of the rebel Jesus

    We guard our world with locks and gun
    And we guard our fine possessions
    And once a year when Christmas comes
    We give to our relations
    And perhaps we give a little to the poor
    If the generosity should seize us
    But if any one of us should interfere
    In the business of why there are poor
    They get the same as the rebel Jesus

    But pardon me if I have seemed
    To take the tone of judgement
    For I've no wish to come between
    This day and your enjoyment
    In a life of hardship and of earthly toil
    We have need for anything that frees us
    So I bid you pleasureAnd I bid you cheer
    From a heathen and a pagan
    On the side of the rebel Jesus


    tom said...

    Good. But what needs to remain clear and in check is the usage and representation of "rebel".

    First, Jesus did not resist or rise in arms against the earthly authority over him. When he was finally seized he did not resist arrest. In fact during the seizure he rebuked someone who cut off the ear of a servant of the high priest.

    Second, If Christ was God as man this would mean that he was/is the ultimate authority. How then could he be a person who "resists any authority, control, or tradition"? (

    I've heard it said that anyone who describes Jesus as a rebel either does not know english (the definition of rebel)or does not know Jesus (what Christ was about).


    However, I think it all depends on how we present the concept and usage of the word for the discussion at hand. Certainly we can say that Jesus did _____ to: (verb) "show or feel utter repugnance" (toward the Pharisees, merchants in the temple, and others) (verb

    We must be careful not to manipulate the characterization of Jesus simply for the sake of ministering to a demographic.

    Thanks. God Bless.

    Tramp Domestic said...

    A rebel is not only someone who takes up arms. I'm betting if you looked down at the examples on, you would find a sentence that said something like "He was a rebel against the school administration." as I did on

    So clearly here in modern English, the word rebel means someone who does things differently from other people or who non-violently disagrees with a government or establishment. It seems silly to nitpick the meaning of the word rebel. I don't know who told you that they either don't know English or don't know Jesus. Language evolves and I'm sure you can find THOUSANDS of examples where someone has used the word rebel to mean someone who resists something specific.

    In Jesus' case, he rebelled vocally against the High Priests and Pharisees. You even have that in your post, so I don't know why you posted this. Is there really going to be someone is Youth Ministry who says "By the way, Jesus was constantly in armed rebellion because of this song by Jackson Browne."