Where shoulders once shrugged, fists now shake.  Evangelical, moderate and liberal Christians are mad as hell at Fox TV host, Glenn Beck. His recent comparison of social justice Christians with Nazis and Communists crossed a line. Among other things, it is a reminder that deep down, Glenn Beck is not only shallow but also the king of demagoguery.

His reactionary comments were clearly intended to raise the hackles of moderates and liberals—and he succeeded.

Writing with the outrage of a biblical prophet, Sojourner’s Jim Wallis refused to attack Glenn Beck but challenged him to an open conversation about social justice, what it is and why it’s important. Beck demurred.

That Glenn Beck is a practicing Mormon only makes the story more interesting. Across the religious spectrum, Beck’s comments served as a source of puzzlement to commentators. Especially illuminating is a quote by Kent P. Jackson, associate dean of religion at Brigham Young University in a recent New York Times article: “My own experience as a believing Latter-day Saint over the course of 60 years is that I have seen social justice in practice in every L.D.S. congregation I’ve been in. People endeavor with all of our frailties and shortcomings to love one another and to lift up other people. So if that’s Beck’s definition of social justice, he and I are definitely not on the same team.”

Were he available for comment, Jesus would say much the same thing.

Mainstream biblical scholars have reached a consensus that a definitive portrait of the historical Jesus cannot be painted and that Jesus revealed, looks more like an unfinished sketch. So how did we come to dress up Jesus in these theological silks and satins?

The Mediterranean Jewish Rabbi named Jesus taught with stories, parables and crisp sayings. He evidently spoke with incredible clarity and amazing simplicity. When he preached, performed a miracle, or gave a teaching, he talked about the kingdom of God.

But it wasn’t what he said that got him into trouble. It’s what he did, and how he lived that eventually got him crucified.

What did he do? How did he live?

The Gospels say that Jesus came eating and drinking with people who had leprosy, with sinners, with prostitutes, with the religiously unclean.

Two millennia removed from the folkways and mores of first century Palestine, it is impossible for us to grasp the significance of this. To eat with the leper was to declare ones self to be a leper. To eat with prostitutes, was to prostitute one’s self. To each with the religiously unclean was to become an outcast. In the first century there was no public act more intimate than to share food, share a meal with another person.

The table fellowship practiced by Jesus was a truly revolutionary and subversive act. The authorities took it as a slap in the face to everything that was sacred.

Then as now, those in power sought to protect their authority by crating social and religious conventions that silenced dissenters and the marginalized and favor those in power.

There’s no other way to put it, Jesus was a social justice subversive. 

He was forever surrounded by the outcasts, the unclean—he even spoke to women unveiled, in public—and he was really outrageous in showing affection for hookers and tax collectors.

He was Glenn Beck’s worst nightmare.

Whoever you want to exclude from your table fellowship, Jesus says, “include them”.

The Jesus of history challenged people not with doctrinal questions but about whether they were willing to set a place for everyone at the table of their lives. Jesus asked tough questions, the toughest of which is, “who are you leaving out?  Bring them in”.

Ideologues like Glenn Beck are eager to deny a place at the table for those who prefer a different diet.

But Jesus was no ideologue.  Jesus is the question, not the answer. Jesus asks us how big our circle of compassion is. Who are we leaving out? Whoever it is, bring them in.

To his credit, Jim Wallis wants to sit down at the table with Glenn Beck.

What are you afraid of Mr. Beck? If you’re not a nut, surely you will sit down with Jim Wallis and other social justice Christians and have a reasonable conversation.

I’m only guessing here, but it may well be that at every level, Jesus could actually be Glenn Beck’s greatest nightmare.

Almost makes me hope for a second coming of Christ.