The Pioneers of Moral Conduct
Whenever a radical form of thinking is introduced, it always faces some form of adversity. In The Gospel of Matthew and Plato’s The Apology, both Jesus and Socrates undergo scrutiny for their profound forms of teaching. Both men were determined to share their ideals, but this persistence was not perceived well by the state. By openly challenging the ¬principles of the government, Jesus and Socrates brought a great deal of attention onto themselves and not only gained many followers, but also a great deal of enemies and both of them ended up dying by the hands of those whom they’ve challenged. Although the ultimate goal of both protagonists was to help their followers lead more fulfilling lives, their methods were unusual and rejected by those who could not comprehend their unconventional methods. They both had teaching styles and methods that were too radical and controversial, due to the fact that they both strove to reveal, rather than hide, the illusions presented by society. Instead of just allowing their followers to take the easy way out, Jesus and Socrates urged their followers to strive for the truth at any cost.
Jesus and Socrates immediately come off as a threat because they both claim that they are on a divine mission by some type of higher authority. Socrates says, “I was attached to this city by the god … as upon a great and noble horse which was somewhat sluggish because of its size and needed to be stirred up by a kind of gadfly” (30e). Socrates is saying that he was sent to the city by god to stir up trouble and cause a ruckus. Socrates is hoping to inspire others into taking action, but instead he just angers those whom he questions. Socrates says, “I proceeded systematically. I realized, to my sorrow and alarm, that I was getting unpopular” (21e). Socrates realizes that in pursuit of his mission he is becoming disliked; nevertheless, he pushes continues his mission. Jesus’ ultimate mission was that he was sent to the Earth to save humanity from sin. Jesus tells his disciples, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). In order to do this, Jesus establishes his divine power by performing miracles, which leaves the crowd in amazement. When Jesus heals the paralytic, the people “were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings” (Matthew 9:8). The people are recognizing Jesus’ god given ability and he is starting to appear as a powerful figure. The Pharisees respond to his acts of wonder by saying, “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons” (Matthew 9:34). The Pharisees are taking note of his actions, and they are trying to refute his powers in defense. Usually, emperors and rulers are portrayed as a god-like figure to their subjects, and Jesus acknowledges this when he says, “They (the Pharisees) love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces” (Matthew 23:6-7). The Pharisees are being described as attention seekers and people who humble themselves based on their reputation and enjoy being honored by the people. By Jesus and Socrates claiming that they are on a divine mission and associating themselves with god, their claim to power is very controversial.
Despite claiming to have good intentions, the actions of both men suggest otherwise. When Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets” (Matthew 5:17), he declares from the beginning that he does not want to rebel against the leaders. However, we see that despite this claim, he still ends up challenging the Pharisees. When Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25), he is suggesting that his followers need not concern themselves with earthly possessions. This claim is a threat to the rulers because he is telling his followers to neglect their daily necessities and responsibility. He is also attacking the values of the elite rulers. Members of the upper class often pride themselves on being able to wear luxurious clothes and indulge in delicacies, but Jesus is denouncing the importance of these things. This is shown when Jesus tells a young man, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:21). In response, the young man “went away grieving, for he had many possessions” (Matthew 19:22). Clearly, this young many valued his wealth and could not bear to give it up. Socrates also similarly attacks the virtues of the Athenians when he says, “Good Sir, you are an Athenian, a citizen of the greatest city with the greatest reputation for both wisdom and power; are you not ashamed of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation, and honors as possible, while you do not care for nor given thought to wisdom or truth or the best possible state of your soul?” (29e). Socrates is attacking the values of the Athenian state and claiming that the people have strayed from what he thinks are the core values of the city. Socrates is jabbing at the nobility, and ridiculing their ideals. They both rebuked people of higher authority and by having a group of loyal followers, they were perceived as a threat because people were so willing to accept their ideologies.
The ultimate mistake made by Jesus and Socrates was that they both picked a fight with the wrong people. People dislike being proven wrong, and both protagonists spent their lives refuting the ideas and beliefs that the people have always believed in. Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living” (38a). Socrates urges the people of Athens to reflect upon their lives and acknowledge their weaknesses in order to improve themselves. If Jesus were around during Socrates’ time he might have agreed with Socrates. Jesus spent his life acknowledging the faults of men and teaching them right from wrong through the use of parables hoping that he could build their faith, much like how Socrates is trying to restore the virtue of the Athenians. The methods and teachings of Socrates and Jesus were too radical to those who were in power and they were perceived as a threat. Despite preaching for good conduct and the intention to improve the wellbeing of their followers, their ideas were too controversial and they appeared too powerful because of their influence. The fact that these two characters were so different in their teachings and ideals gave them a great deal of unintended power and influence but it was not enough to save either one of them from an untimely death.