Chapter 4: Did Jesus Organize a Union?

In Chapter 4 we examine not only how Jesus occupied, but also how he was engaging downtrodden workers in calling his disciples. John Dominic Crossan, in his wonderful book God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome Then and Now, asks us to consider why Jesus of Nazareth would walk all the way to Galilee to begin (Mark 1:16) his ministry when he could just as easily have done so closer to home?  And why seek out all these fishermen?  Why is Jesus systematically recruiting people who fish to be his disciples?

Crossan points out that the Roman imperial project of commercialization of the fishing industry took place during the time of Jesus. The rule of Herod Antipas was regulating and taxing the indigenous fishing industry around the Sea of Galilee pretty much out of profitability right around the time of Jesus.

Jesus goes to the Sea of Galilee and recruits people to be his disciples who will get it. The core of his message is that the Kingdom of Herod Antipas and the Kingdom of God are clashing right now, in human history, and people need to take sides, against or for the justice and mercy of God’s message.  Men who had just been put out of work, or nearly out of business by the rule of Rome, were standing around by the shore in Galilee mending their worn out nets, and worried whether their patched up boats would survive a storm.  These are the people, in Jesus’ recruitment strategy, who could hear the message he was preaching because they were being crushed down by Roman occupation. The poor fishermen would be better able to #Occupy another message and understand why following Jesus meant resisting Rome.

The American labor movement has fought to end child labor, correct unsafe working conditions, get fair wages, and the 40-hour week.

Women garment workers strike for fair wages, safe working conditions.

Today, this struggle goes on as the fastest growing labor model is low wages, part-time, no benefits work, often in unsafe working conditions.  This is not how we uphold the dignity of work; Pope John Paul II talked about work being the way human beings are “co-creators” with God.  The dignity of work is part of the image of God. This is a faith message and one supported by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

A demonstration in support of Hyatt hotel workers at the American Academy of Religion in Chicago in November, 2012


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