Magazine article Tikkun

Meet the Messiah; Kill the Messiah

Magazine article Tikkun

Meet the Messiah; Kill the Messiah

Article excerpt

Late at night on the eve of my sixteenth birthday, my mom came into my bedroom and asked me if I was the Messiah. She was serious. I put down the Zen text I was reading and we looked at each other with an intensity I have not experienced since. "No," I said softly, "I am not the Messiah." She started to cry. We both did. Then she went back to her bedroom. We never spoke of this, but I have never forgotten it.

Did Mary ever wake Jesus up in the middle of the night to ask if he were the Messiah? Did Bar Kochbah's mother know before Akiva that her boy was the one? What about Shabbtai Tzvi's mom? Did she have to wait for Nathan of Gaza to inform her as to the status of her son? What did Mrs. Frank think of her boy, Jacob? Or Mrs. Of Bratzlav of her son Nahman?

Maybe my mother knew what I refused to know. Maybe she was right. Maybe I was the Messiah, or could have been if I had only answered differently. What would my life have been like if I had answered, "Yes, Mom. I am the Messiah"? Would I have gotten out of gym class? What about wood shop? Jesus was a carpenter after all.

Why do people want messiahs, anyway? Everyone does. The Jews have the Son of David; the Christians have the always-soon-to-return Jesus; the Muslims have the Mahdi; the Buddhists have Maitreya Buddha; and the Hindus have avatars popping up from time to time. Messiahs are incarnations of the human need to hope, and we can't seem to live without hope. Too bad.

The whole point of messianism is to perfect the future and rescue us from our imperfect present. To make this happen, messianists work tirelessly to free humanity from its yetzer harah (capacity for evil). This is not only ridiculous, it is dangerous.

We cannot have good without evil any more than we can have in without out, or left without right. Nature is a swirl of opposites, and the messianic ideal is a violent distortion of the very fabric of existence. To place one's hope in such a distortion is to lay the foundation for dystopia. This is why every messianic movement ultimately becomes fertile soil for the very evils it seeks to uproot.

People are not meant to be perfect, if by perfect we mean good without evil. People are meant to be the image and likeness of God; and God, as Isaiah tells us, is the source of both good and evil. People are meant to be just what we are: holy rascals with the capacity to praise God as we pass the ammunition.

Humans are the way nature docs Gauguin, Chagall, and paint-by-numbers. We are the way life composes Beethoven's Fifth and Lennon's Number 9. We are the way the universe writes King Lear, the Bill of Rights, and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. We are the way she builds skyscrapers and melts them down. We are the way the world becomes conscious of itself and all its dimensions. We are the way life imagines Utopia and oblivion, and, if we are lucky, avoids both.

When we place hope in messianism we pretend we can be other than we are. We can't. When we imagine that we can be only good, we excuse the evil we do in the name of some higher purpose. Read your Torah: Moses is always condoning violence in the Name of God. Read your Church history: the God of Love is forever used to sanction torture and tyranny. Read your morning newspaper: the God-intoxicated are alive and well, perpetuating evil in the name of good, and sanctioning slaughter in the name of holiness. The greatest evil is always done with messianic hype, claiming to cleanse the world of that which the messianists fear most: the messiness of human life. …

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