Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Jesus and Social Revolution (Part 2)

The Wild Reed's 2016 Holy Week series continues with a second excerpt from Richard Horsley's 1993 book Jesus and the Spiral of Violence. (For Part 1, click here.)

But before sharing this second excerpt, a few words about this idea of the "spiral of violence" which Horsley says Jesus opposed yet was nevertheless caught up in – to the extent that it ensured his brutal execution.

Horsley notes that in terms of both etymology and/or a basic sense of values, violence is related to the Latin violare, "to violate." He then shares a quote from R. M. Brown's Religion and Violence that supports this understanding: "Whatever 'violates' another, in the sense of infringing upon or disregarding or abusing or denying that other, whether physical harm is involved or not, can be understood as an act of violence. The basic overall definition of violence would then become violation of personhood."

After presenting and discussing this definition of violence, Horsley next draws from the work of the late Dom Hélder Câmara, Archbishop of Recife in northeastern Brazil, to identify a four-stage or -level "spiral of violence." The first stage is injustice, also known as structural or institutionalized violence. The second stage is protest and resistance to institutionalized injustice. The third stage involves the repression of protest and resistance by the established holders of power. This repression drives the spiral of violence to its fourth stage, that of revolt, where a large number of people will no longer passively bear the violence of injustice and/or repression. Horsley notes that revolt "is not necessarily violent, or it might involve minimal violence in the form of armed insurrection. . . . On the other side of the spectrum, popular revolts can be violent outbursts of long pent-up resentment against the oppressive ruling groups."

Archbishop Óscar Romero reminded us that if we denounce and condemn the violence at any one level of the spiral, we must also denounce and condemn the violence at all levels. Accordingly, one cannot criticize and condemn the violence of protest and resistance while ignoring the institutionalized violence that's being resisted and protested against.

With all this in mind, here is a second excerpt from Horsley's Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Resistance in Roman Palestine.

Jesus' actions and prophecies, especially those directed against the ruling institutions of his society, suggest that he was mounting a more serious opposition than a mere protest. It is certain that Jesus was executed as a rebel against the Roman order. Jesus' prophecies and actions, moreover, show that from the viewpoint of the rulers the crucifixion of Jesus was not a mistake. The charges brought against him, however apologetically handled by the gospel writers, were in effect true. He had definitely been stirring up the people. Herod Antipas was reportedly already hostile to Jesus, perhaps even plotting his arrest, simply because of the threatening effects of his healing activity; and, as can be seen in Jesus' insistence on local social-economic cooperation, his practice was far more comprehensive in social renewal than a few healing miracles. Jesus had almost certainly threatened the Temple. More particularly, he had pronounced God's judgment against the Temple and against the high-priestly rulers and the ruling city as well. It is unclear just how explicitly Jesus claimed to be or was acclaimed as a king; but from the viewpoint of the rulers, he clearly was a dangerous popular leader, and from the "messianic movements" of a generation earlier they were familiar with popularly acclaimed kings as a revolutionary threat. Finally, it is less certain but likely that Jesus had in effect taken the position not only that the people were "free" of illegitimate taxation by the Temple system, but that they were also not obligated to render up the Roman tribute, since all things being God's, nothing was really due to Caesar. Taken together, these sayings and prophecies begin to sound more systematically revolutionary than an unrelated set of incidental sayings juxtaposed with a protest or two.

Although it begins to appear that Jesus and his movement were engaged not simply in resistance but in a more serious revolt of some sort against the established order in Palestine, there is no evidence that Jesus himself advocated, let alone organized, the kind of armed rebellion that would have been necessary to free society from the military-political power of the Roman empire. The solution to this apparent contradiction lies in taking more seriously than we have the social ambiance in which Jesus was working. Jesus was engaged in direct manifestations of God's kingdom in his practice and preaching, and he was confident that God was imminently to complete the restoration of Israel and judge the institutions that maintained injustice. the power of Satan had been broken. According to the apocalyptic way of understanding reality, in which events could be happening on three levels simultaneously (the spiritual, the social-historical, and the personal), so that happenings on one level constituted evidence for happenings on the other levels, the implications were obvious for the historical situation.

Perhaps because the apocalyptic orientation is so foreign to our own modern "scientific" view of reality, we have tended to ignore or often actually "demythologize" the perspective in which Jesus and his followers were thinking and acting. For us, the fact that Jesus himself did not advocate or engage in violent actions becomes evidence that he had no relationship with any sort of violent response to the violence and oppression he opposed. . . . In order to understand adequately what Jesus . . . [was] saying and doing, we must take seriously what [he] understood God to be doing, for [he] understood [his] activities as part of God's action in history. At least since the time of the visions in the book of Daniel many Jews had believed that God was soon to judge the oppressive imperial regimes and give dominion to the people, as well as vindicate the martyrs who had meanwhile died for the faith. Jesus apparently shared this perspective, only he was convinced that God had already inaugurated the time of renewal and fulfillment. Jesus' prophecies and other sayings do not elaborate much on the violent character of God's judgment. But that component of the overall perspective is clearly present in his preaching. God was effecting the revolution that would end the spiral of violence as well as liberate and renew Israel and, assuming Jesus was cognizant of the promise to Abraham, through Israel bring salvation to the nations.

– Richard A. Horsley
Excerpted from Jesus and the the Spiral of Violence:
Popular Resistance in Roman Palestine

pp. 320-322

NEXT: Part 3

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
Jesus and Social Revolution (Part 1)
Palm Sunday: "A Planned Political Demonstration"
The Most Dangerous Kind of Rebel
A Wretched Death, A Wretched Burial
No Other Way
Revisiting a Groovy Jesus (and a Dysfunctional Theology)
Jesus Was a Sissy
Why Jesus is My Man

Related Off-site Link:
The Subversive Politics of Palm Sunday – Adam Ericksen (Patheos, March 19, 2016).

Images: Juan Pablo Di Pace as Jesus in the 2015 NBC mini-series A.D.: The Bible Continues.

No comments: