Friday, March 25, 2016

Jesus and Social Revolution (Part 3)

The Wild Reed's 2016 Holy Week series concludes today, Good Friday, with a third excerpt from Richard Horsley's 1993 book Jesus and the Spiral of Violence. (To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)

There is no indication in the gospel tradition that Jesus saw any role for the ruling institutions of his society. In fact the evidence points in the other direction. Given the appearance of prophecies or a demonstration against the Temple at four different points in the gospel tradition, paralleled by solid traditions of his lament over the governing city and the parable told in judgment against the high-priestly rulers, it would appear that he did not simply condemn the present incumbents of those ruling institutions but rejected the institutions themselves. That is, Jesus rejected the institutions by which the priestly ruling class controlled and extracted its living from the vast majority of the people. There is certainly no indication that Jesus himself posed as a monarchic ruler, for the traditions that portray him as a "messianic" king can best be understood in terms of popular, not monarchic, kingship. In this it appears that he worked out of the central biblical traditions of a convenantal society without the special power and privileges that went with an institutionalized ruling class such as a monarchy or a high priesthood, for which there were also legitimating biblical traditions. The kingdom of God apparently had no need of either a mediating hierocracy or a temple system.

The social revolution that Jesus catalyzed in anticipation of the political revolution being effected by God also created a crisis and entailed a severe discipline. Response to the kingdom by some and rejection by others created divisions within families, often apparently between the generations. Other divisions provoked by the crisis or judgment that had come into the present situation with the coming of the kingdom of God constitute a prominent theme in Jesus' sayings and parables. Those too busy attending to their worldly security would find themselves excluded from the great banquet to which they had been invited. The wealthy would find it impossible to enter the kingdom. Judgment that had been thought to be in the future had suddenly come into the present, for people's future was being determined by the way they responded to Jesus and his offer of the kingdom. The woes Jesus pronounced on unresponsive Galilean villages indicate the seriousness with which collective as well as individual response was taken.

Response to the kingdom, moreover, required utter dedication, particularly for those called to leadership roles. "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). "Leave the dead to bury the dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:60 and Matthew 8:22). Of course, if such sayings are understood merely as radical ethics addressed to a few wandering charismatics, conceived of after the model of Cynic philosophers, then they can be dismissed as irrelevant for the vast majority of people and do not express a revolutionary ethos at all. But many of these "hard sayings" are clearly addressed to the people generally; and the "charismatics," quite unlike the Cynics, were catalysts of a broader movement based in the villages of Galilee.

It would be difficult to claim that Jesus was a pacifist. But he actively opposed violence, particularly institutionalized oppressive and repressive violence, and its effects on a subject people. Jesus was apparently a revolutionary, but not a violent political revolutionary. Convinced that God would put an end to the spiral of violence, however violently, Jesus preached and catalyzed a social revolution. In the presence of the kingdom of God he mediated God's liberation to a discouraged Jewish peasantry and offered some fundamental guidance for the renewal of the people. "Love your enemies" turns out to be not the apolitical pacific stance of one who stands above the turmoil of his day, nor a sober counsel of non-resistance to evil or oppression, but a revolutionary principle. It was a social revolutionary principle insofar as the love of enemies would transform local social-economic relations. In effect, however, it was also – even if somewhat indirectly – politically revolutionary. That is, when the people have achieved solidarity with regard to the basic values of life focused on concrete social-economic relations, it has usually been threatening to the ruling groups. The communities of Jesus' followers appear to have been such a threat.

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

pp. 325-326

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
Jesus and Social Revolution (Part 1)
Jesus and Social Revolution (Part 2)
The Most Dangerous Kind of Rebel
Palm Sunday: "A Planned Political Demonstration"
The "Incident" in the Temple
Blaming the Jews, Canonizing Pilate
The Passion of Christ (Part 7) – Jesus Goes to His Execution
The Passion of Christ (Part 8) – Jesus is Nailed the Cross
The Passion of Christ (Part 9) – Jesus Dies
Jesus and the Art of Letting Go
No Deeper Darkness
A Wretched Death, A Wretched Burial
A God With Whom It is Possible to Connect
Revisiting a Groovy Jesus (and a Dysfunctional Theology)
Why Jesus is My Man

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

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