Fourth of July, 2021. Two hundred and forty fifth anniversary of what? Start of the revolution? Birth of the US? Signing the Declaration of Independence? The revolution started a year before, the Constitution wouldn’t be adopted for another twenty, and though signing the Declaration began on August 2nd, it wasn’t fully signed until the following year. But on July 4th, 1776, the rough draft of the Declaration was approved by congress… We like our history neat and tidy, but truth is messier.
Jesus was a revolutionary too.
When did his revolution begin? At his birth, death, baptism, ministry, resurrection, Pentecost? The truth is much messier. Jesus wasn’t trying to overthrow his religion or society, but to reform both by fostering interior revolutions in as many individuals as possible. But those willing to follow Jesus through the trials of their own revolutionary transformations, changed the Roman world as they grew in number—a slow-motion revolution for two hundred and forty five years until Christianity became the state religion of Rome.
But the moment Christianity became a state religion, the revolution ended.
Allied with Roman power, wealth, status, the church could no longer teach and foster interior revolutions—the radical transformation of a person’s heart—but would teach and demand conformity to the institution it had become. It was the moment that the purest of heart fled to the deserts of the eastern empire to continue the revolution by starting the monastic movement in the Christian tradition. And a thousand years later, a little man in Italy named Francis restarted a revolution within himself that through his followers changed their religion and society for a time, until they too became an institution.
Eight hundred years later, we need another restart. To follow Jesus is to follow the Way of interior revolution: becoming willing to overthrow the institutions we have built in our personal lives. But the shape of exterior revolutions give us clues to the shape of our own, and the words of the Declaration of Independence perfectly articulate both the blockage to and the boldness needed to reclaim our unalienable right to the love that safeguards those we hold to be self-evident: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.