A little background:
The author of this poem, Vincent Godfrey Burns, did not stay in Brooklyn very long-- where he was born in 1893 -- as he earned his undergraduate degree from Penn State in 1916, and then received another the next year from Harvard. After getting ordained in 1920 as a Congregationalist minister in 1920, he finished up at Union Theological Seminary in 1922, and while pastoring in New York and New Jersey, he did more studies at Columbia University until around the time of his marriage to Miss Edna Rodenberger in 1924 (He remarried for a time in 1945 to Kathy Baker).
The turbulence of the thirties and the Depression must have prompted not only the penning of this piece, but also the breaking from his church. He unsuccessfully tried to repatriate in 1941 to become a Chaplain, but finally after moving to Anne Arundel County, Maryland in 1951, his writing there earned him in 1962 the distinction of being the second Maryland Poet Laureate, despite his strong religious and political writing. He died in 1979.
This poem, I believe, speaks volumes, gushing right out of a man who had first-hand seen serious problems in American society that supposedly claimed itself Christian. It is very universal in its scope.
If Jesus Came Back Today
If Jesus came back today
What would the people say?
Would they cheer Him and strew the way
With garlands of myrtle
As they did on that distant day
When he came to Jerusalem
What would America
If Jesus came back today?
I think without a shadow of doubt
When He'd traveled and spoken about
In church and school and street
And clubs where rich men meet,
His quiet, fearless smile
At our godless greed
Would raise our wrath
When we heard those firm lips speak
In accents serene and meek
“I have come to protect the weak
From the plunderer and the knave
I have come to free the slave,
To lift the poor from the slime
Of need and disease and crime,
To break the grip of gold
On my brothers, young and old;
To throw the prisons wide
And put the rich sinner
With those who have made the law
By the rule of fang and claw
We would take Him and ride Him out
Like a renegade
on a rail,
Or throw Him in the county jail
As a dangerous radical Red
who was probably off His head.
“Away with this common lout!”
With derisive laughter and shout
We would mock His daring dream.
“Love?” we would fairly scream,
“Why, what does this madman mean
This talk is O.K. with rube
Or idealistic boobs
But we are men of knowledge
Who have graduated from college
Look at the things we own:
Look at our books and inventions,
Our schools, our clubs, our conventions.
We have more goods and gold
Than our mansions and homes can hold.
We have all we can eat and drink,
To the poor we freely give.
Does this fanatic
He can teach us
how to live
O doesn't it shame the dead
And break your heart
That He who broke the bread
And offered His life's new wine
to serve the Cause divine,
That He who suffered and bled
That the hungry might be fed
That the workman might be free,
That the blinded eyes might see
That the captive might lose his chains
And the rich his ill-gotten gains
To think while we mouth His name
(Does it not bring a blush of shame?)
We so callously scorn His star
And go hoard
ing and whoring
Where the follies and fleshpot
We fashion great churches and creeds,
But the heart of the people still bleeds
And the poor still rot in their needs.
We display with pride His cross
In the midst of our pagan
While we hug to our hearts the dross
Of our selfishness and strife.
have we made
To live the love He prayed?
What willing blood have we shed
To do the deeds He said?
To be popular
We forsake the way He led
And follow a ghost