Meeting Jesus after Sunday school

When I was growing up, I assumed all childhoods were like mine. What else did I know?

I assumed every child had their own bedroom. I didn’t know that many families were crowding three, four and five children to a room.

I assumed every child had loving and sober parents. I didn’t know that many lived with the weak, the selfish, the addicted, or that one-third of my female peers were sexually abused.

I assumed every table had enough food. I didn’t know that 20% of the children around me went to bed hungry.

I assumed every home had shelves of books and magazines, every family took vacations, every child had friends, every child was learning at school, every child could play safely outdoors — whereas, for many children, none of that was true.

Now I know better. Thanks to dogged news reporting, thanks to concerned agencies and now thanks to the pandemic and what it has shown us, I know that childhood has been hell for many children – especially poor kids – and it’s been downright inhumane for undocumented immigrants.

I have learned something else, too. In seeking to move beyond the pastel stories of Sunday school and discover the Jesus who was – the Jesus who actually changed lives – I find that he wasn’t sitting on hillsides waiting for “nice boys and girls” to sit on his lap. He was hiding from Roman soldiers and Temple police because he was taking the side of the poor against them. All that time I thought Jesus was calling me to be a sunbeam and watching to see if I said my prayers correctly, he was risking his life for the poor and abused.

I now know that Jesus was a zealot. He had grown up poor, lived with his parents and several siblings in a mud hut and payed onerous taxes to Rome and to the Temple so that a few could live large. Now he was fighting on behalf of those Jewish poor, fighting to rid Palestine of its Roman oppressors and to get the religious hierarchy off their backs.

I know that, around 70 A.D., Rome destroyed the Temple, reduced Palestine to rubble and made the ground red with the blood of Jewish children and their parents. I know that, having lost their base in Jewish Jerusalem, early Christians gravitated to Greek-speaking cities and to Rome where they sought converts among the well-to-do.

I understand the new tactic, but is there any reason to think that God’s zeal for the poor and oppressed has been lost? When we look for Jesus today, as surely we should be doing, would we not look among the poor, whose children are being brought to him and whose lives are hungry for good things?

Jesus fought for the poor, for people my privileged childhood kept me from even seeing. Now I know, and now I must do what I can for them.

TOM EHRICH is a publisher, writer, church consultant and president of Morning Walk Media, based in New York.