GUEST BLOG: Bryan Bruce – What Would Jesus Say?


Last week, as you probably heard, the historic cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris unfortunately caught fire.

French President Macron instantly announced a fund would be created to rebuild it and already more than a billion Euros have poured in to fix the 850 year old building with huge amounts donated from very wealthy people.

100million Euros from Francois-Henri Pinault, the ultimate owner of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent; €200m from the Arnault family of Louis Vuitton fame; another €200m from L’Oreal owners the Bettencourt Meyers family, and €100m from French oil giant Total… the list goes on.

It’s conservatively estimated by the World Health Organisation that 15,000 children under the age of 5 die every day from hunger. That’s 5.8 million children a year.

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And about 780 million of us don’t have access to fresh drinking water.

Whatever you believe about the historical person called Jesus it’s central to the teachings attributed to him that people are more important than possessions.

So I wonder what Jesus would say if given the choice.

Rebuild a Cathedral celebrating his life?

Or feed hungry children and give everyone fresh water?


Bryan Bruce is one of NZs most respected documentary makers and public intellectuals who has tirelessly exposed NZs neoliberal economic settings as the main cause for social issues.


  1. How to spend government money and resource management,

    a) Rebuild Notre Dame in Paris

    b) spend it on 15,000 children under the age of 5 who die every day from hunger.

    c) the NZ option, give away free water rights to offshore big business while lamenting the poverty in NZ and help pollute the sea and kill it’s sea creatures with the plastic bottles furthering the poverty of other nations that rely on that as a source of food rather than just straight profiteering…

    d) Be so anti culture at universities in NZ that you allow the destruction of education books and jobs at universities to save money while paying the person doing that one of the highest salaries in NZ.

    e)Ensure that corporations are grant resource consents cart blanche under RMA laws while ignoring the effects residents and taxpayers paying to the congestion, health care and air pollution.. to ex asbestos

    James Hardie has consent to remove 23,000 cubic metres of sand a year, over a 35 year period, and have up to five loaded trucks and trailer movements per day travelling across Auckland, while the residents get left with the pollution and risks.

    Just a few examples that effect ordinary people who our politicians and social commentators seem to have no interest aka day to day examples of our laws in action creating inequality, and our RMA laws in particular making locals poorer and our country more polluted while making the residents and taxpayers pay for the ongoing costs and risks of businesses here…

  2. I don’t think Jesus would recognise a cathedral as having any relationship to him. Iconoclastic would be a better descriptor of his worldview.

    Which brings up the next point. Would he have focused on feeding the poor? I think his message was a spiritual/political one that needs to be understood in the context of the times rather than a physical one, he was an itinerant wandering preacher foretelling the establishment of the Kingdom of God (ie the removal of the Roman occupiers and the restoration of the Davidic throne) and may not have been totally focused on the suffering of the poor either. Certainly pro-Israel generically, not necessarily pro-poor/suffering as such.

    It’s easy to interpret the message of Jesus in our cultural context, but I’m not sure if this is a truly helpful way of looking at it.

    • Yes, it could be a false equivalence. Like today I’ve been pondering – seriously – whether Peter Jackson in rightly criticising the Wellington City Council’s aiding and abetting the trashing of lovely Shelley Bay, did snakes a disservice by referring to the WCC as snake oil merchants.

      The traditional mythology of snakes, especially in various culture’s creation myths, gives the WCC an unwarranted stature, and degrades snakes, by making that comparison.

      Notre Dame has an enormous symbolic value, and I think symbols very important – at a superficial level for social identity, and social cohesion,and permanence, and stability, and here, unconscious perhaps, appreciation of beautiful aesthetics, and Notre Dame carries its own
      history, deeply embedded in literature and music. I shed a few tears for it.Without thinking, I thought that it would always be there, and it could be profoundly upsetting for Parisians seeing it under threat- more so perhaps, at a time of social unrest.

      Yes, Jesus loved and valued the poor, but it may be more realistic to ask
      whether he would be at home in the rich opulence of the Vatican, or whether would he turn the tables on them as he did to the money lenders in the temple, say Aramaic swear words to the Curia, and
      be more at home with the intrinsic goodness of the Salvation Army.

  3. “Rebuild a Cathedral celebrating his life?”

    That cathedral is named “Notre Dame de Paris”. So: in fact, celebrating Jesus’ mother. In any event, I don’t doubt that Parisians want it rebuilt: it’s the heart and soul of Paris.

    I’m an atheist. I don’t care a toss for any of that godsquad stuff. But I love the old buildings of Paris, including Notre Dame. I’d like to see it rebuilt; and as it was, not some worthy modern reimagining of it.

    Heartbroken as I am about Notre Dame, I’m thankful that it wasn’t Sainte Chapelle so damaged. Any of you going to Paris and who haven’t seen it, I recommend a visit. It’s truly spectacular.

    • Non, D’Esterre, climbing up to Sacre Coeur at midnight, on balmy summer night.

      Listen to the beauty of Schubert’s or the Bach-Gounod ‘Ave Maria’ and wonder at the spiritual realm which helps create simple masterpieces and don’t think too deeply on it, just bask in the pleasures which they carry – this is part of our cultural heritage too.

  4. Hehehe…. the cartoon,… almost delivers the point but Jesus cleared the Temple because the money lenders had turned the Temple into a stock exchange and a money market ie : mammon , instead of a house of prayer, – endorsed by the ruling elite of the time, – the Pharisees.

    And those same Pharisees were the very ones Jesus criticized the most as leading the common folk away from the fundamentals of Israel being a ‘light upon a hill leading all nations ( and themselves ) back to God’. They instead had become legalistic, licentious, filled with avarice, cutting political deals with Rome and focusing their aims on the short term , ‘ temporal’ values of this world, not eternal truths.

    He called the Pharisees ‘ white washed tombs filled with dead mans bones’, hypocrites , a generation of of vipers , fools , blind guides among others , It is condensed in the ‘seven woes of the Pharisees’:


    The seven woes are:

    1/ They taught about God but did not love God – they did not enter the kingdom of heaven themselves, nor did they let others enter.

    2/ They preached God but converted people to dead religion, thus making those converts twice as much sons of hell as they themselves were.

    3/ They taught that an oath sworn by the temple or altar was not binding, but that if sworn by the gold ornamentation of the temple, or by a sacrificial gift on the altar, it was binding. The gold and gifts, however, were not sacred in themselves as the temple and altar were, but derived a measure of lesser sacredness by being connected to the temple or altar. The teachers and Pharisees worshiped at the temple and offered sacrifices at the altar because they knew that the temple and altar were sacred. How then could they deny oath-binding value to what was truly sacred and accord it to objects of trivial and derived sacredness?

    4/ They taught the law but did not practice some of the most important parts of the law – justice, mercy, faithfulness to God. They obeyed the minutiae of the law such as tithing spices but not the weightier matters of the law.

    5/ They presented an appearance of being ‘clean’ (self-restrained, not involved in carnal matters), yet they were dirty inside: they seethed with hidden worldly desires, carnality. They were full of greed and self-indulgence.

    6/ They exhibited themselves as righteous on account of being scrupulous keepers of the law, but were in fact not righteous: their mask of righteousness hid a secret inner world of ungodly thoughts and feelings. They were full of wickedness. They were like whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones.

    7/ They professed a high regard for the dead prophets of old, and claimed that they would never have persecuted and murdered prophets, when in fact they were cut from the same cloth as the persecutors and murderers: they too had murderous blood in their veins


    Jesus was not concerned with the empires of ‘this age’ , seeing humanity’s short sojourn on this planet of only temporary worth , and saying the power structures of this earth are oppressive, – and even then , – that leaders and nations owe their temporary status to God in the first place. Even though they constantly abused it. Such is the price of giving mankind free choice.

    He said his Kingdom was not of this Earth. And that it lasted forever.

    This is one of the reasons the early Christians were hunted down and slaughtered by the Roman authority’s, – they point blank refused to bow down before the Emperor and call him ‘ god’.

    They were viewed as subversives.

    So how would Jesus view Notre Dame ? , – probably in the same vein as any other edifice made to mans glory. Temporal and created from vanity. A monument to mans innate desire to controls others… because during the Medieval period it was well known how controlling and oppressive the centralized church had become… ie endorsing the effective enslavement system of lords and serfs and forcing them to have to pay large amounts in taxation . To the rich and the nobles benefit.

    Much like neo liberalism today.

    And while it is shocking to see such a wonderful and historic building destroyed ( partially ) after surviving through WW2 and every other calamity ,… and standing there for century’s,…as the author has noted ,- the sheer hypocrisy of these billionaires donating hundreds of millions to repair an old cathedral in one uppmanship ,… while disregarding ‘15,000 children under the age of 5 die every day from hunger. That’s 5.8 million children a year and about 780 million of us who don’t have access to fresh drinking water’ ,… really answers the question of ‘What would Jesus say?’…

    He would probably view it , in the same way he viewed the Pharisees.

    • I don’t know if Notre Dame was built to glorify man. Most of these church buildings were to glorify God, with lofty steeples pointing up towards him in heaven.

      One day when I was young, I spent Christmas Day in Panama city. I saw for the first time, a church or cathedral with elaborate massive gold and gold leaf ornamentation around the altar area, and a costly magnificence I’ve not seen in any opera house or building anywhere since.

      It shocked me that this existed amongst so much poverty, and I subsequently wrote to a priest relative about it. He replied that for the poor who attended these churches, what shocked me, comforted them as a reflection of the glory of a God who was crucial in giving meaning to their lives, and without the comfort which this belief in God gave them, their lives would be more wretched than they were.

      So Notre Dame moves into a spiritual realm, and at the risk of being trite, can be seen a mental health issue.

      Yes, of course various noblemen and others vied in demonstrating their munificence in endowing church buildings, and I daresay some sought to gain indulgences and a ringside seat in heaven by pleasing God, but the meaning that they brought to the ragged poor, was an actual tangible benefit, however sad and small we may see it as now.

      • Doesn’t wash , – when poor missionaries scrounge around for the basics to even get running water water in villages. That external trapping of wealth is not needed and excessive. It could just be funneled into projects that advance poor regions.

        Churches can be held in schools and meeting halls, they don’t need great cathedrals and monoliths with all the bells and smells and guilt golded items.

        Anything from the Vatican to TV evangelists are all doing the same thing: accruing wealth from donations and then investing it. True, much of it goes towards missionary work in poorer regions, but there is no sense in having these edifices of material wealth.

        The rich in Europe are doing effectively the same thing, – donating hundreds of millions towards repairing a cathedral that could have just as easily gone towards massive improvement programs and saving lives with medicine and education facility’s.

        This is no longer the medieval era when only the rich could afford an education and knowledge was locked up in ecclesiastical monastery’s to which Kings and Queens curried favor for military support…

        They may be able to fool the very poor in underdeveloped country’s but they don’t fool us.

        If those same priest’s really believed in the faith they are teaching they could learn to do without themselves and instead approach their superiors with ways to convert the sale of those monoliths into faith based development programs. It would be interesting to see if their superiors had the same fidelity in their faiths in considering it.

        Simple compounds with a central meeting hall would suffice.

        And so too would full bellies, clean water and work projects and education to advance those who haven’t a hope of achieving it under their govt’s.

  5. I don’t invest in brands, or breeds of cattle. Or, for that matter brands of cattle, (aha) brass bulls, or idolized architectural objects. But some enjoy the rustic gothic flavor.

  6. When Judas complained that Mary Magdalene was using expensive oils on Jesus, didn’t Jesus say – “There will be poor always”.

    • Yep- and he also said there will be severe consequences for those who mistreat em as well. And that INCLUDES withholding pay from the workman. Which has been the case for nigh on 35 years in this country…

  7. St Francis said that he came to rebuild a church. People assumed it was a local derelict building. Of course he meant rebuild the corrupt institution, and to some degree he succeeded. But not for long as the church reverted to form. There’s a lesson.

    St Francis followed the tennets of a man who threw over the tables of the money lenders in the temple. That too was put to rights with a cruxifiction. Another lesson in power.

    Maybe the best we can ask of money / power is that they spend on something that is part of us and that we use, like a cathedral. As per the prior examples don’t expect the rich to spend on the poor. Camels and the eye of needles.

  8. St Francis said that he came to rebuild a church. People assumed it was a local derelict building. Of course he meant rebuild the corrupt institution, and to some degree he succeeded. But not for long as the church reverted to form. There’s a lesson.

    St Francis followed the tennets of a man who threw over the tables of the money lenders in the temple. That too was put to rights with a cruxifiction. Another lesson in power.

    Maybe the best we can ask of money / power is that they spend on something that is part of us and that we use, like a cathedral. As per the prior examples don’t expect the rich to spend on the poor. Camels and the eye of needles.

  9. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands

    Acts 17:24

    • Very good Andy.

      And the original church consisted of groups of people who met held in people’s houses.

      And Jesus never came back as expected.

      Why are we waiting ?

      Because the narrative, from his death onwards, is largely retrospective theology originally initiated by Paul of Tarsus who did a first class job in turning defeat into success. (Don’t mention this to Israel Folau or Bishy Brian.)

      But none of it negates the message of the Sermon on the Mount, which surpasses anything the UNO or any world leader has come up with as a pathway to peaceful healthy living right here on terra firma. (Except maybe Buddha and Lao Tzu).

    • Tell me Bark, would you be making this comment to Muslims whose ancient mosque had caught fire, or to Jews whose temple had been
      burnt ?

      Same old Yahweh by any other name too.

        • You’re thinking of the Golden Calf. And the investment properties, and the bank accounts in the Cayman Islands.

          You probably don’t believe I can fly with my umbrella either.

        • Over 4000 religions today and they all say they are right.

          Belief systems change and adopt ideas and events from other depending on what path is taken to increase numbers or control.

          The idea of one omnipotent being is fairly new one.

          That idea is rejected by many millions.

          Reverence is a matter of allowing others to play with ideas that suit their motives as long as they don’t interfere with others.

          I don’t bow my head to the dictates of religion based empires.

          Science is about testable evidence not beliefs.

          Miracles are in the mind.

  10. The one world religion is underway under the auspices of Francis .. to be called Chrislam. Gotta get rid of the old to make way for the new!

  11. We should all become gardeners. Because ” In the gardener, there lies the gentle hand of God.”
    The ‘God.’ All of them. They’re right in front of you as you write and read.
    They’re all around you. Everywhere you look and where ever you journey within your mind.
    ‘God’ is Us. All of Us. From the smallest wee beastie, even that one that tries to fly in your ear when you’re having sexy times with your sexy times person in that field by that creek that time, you little shit. And to the funkiest tree and plant and microbe. Just take LSD? Then you’ll understand. Look into that amazing image taken by Voyager of our planet seen through the rings of Saturn? Our pale blue dot. In the unimaginably vast void of space. Our very small, very special, very beautiful little planet. The one that has the rocks and muds and volcanos and what-not. Our seemingly inert round thing we call ‘Earth’ is alive and vibrant with energy. The God Energy. We are it, and it is us. All of us. We’re all of our brothers and sisters. And I admit. Some of those brotherly and sisterly things will crawl up your bum and latch on for your journey, or until you take a worming pill. But they know not what they do. Or do they…?
    God isn’t out there. Watching. That’s absurd. What weirdy perv’s that’d make them?
    @ Bryan Bruce? I. Am a big fan. You do world class work son.

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