Sunday, March 20, 2016

Jesus and Social Revolution

This year for Holy Week I'll be sharing three excerpts from that part of Richard Horsley's 1993 book Jesus and the Spiral of Violence that looks at Jesus and social revolution. (You may recall that I referred to this book when in 2009 I wrote about the range of theological opinion on Jesus' disruptive action in the Temple.)

This first excerpt today, Palm Sunday, focuses on understanding Jesus and violence by examining the ways Jesus actively opposed violence in a social-historical setting that was, Horsley reminds us, "permeated with violence."

I should just take a moment and say that I've intentionally chosen this topic and book as I'm very aware of how, for so many people today, violence permeates their social-historical setting and thus their lives, the lives of their loved ones, and their communities. I don't know about you, but I can often find myself overwhelmed by the violence and injustice in our world; by the extremism and hard-heartedness that so many chose to allow to motivate and direct their actions; by the ongoing wars and environmental destruction and mindless consumerism.

How does one respond to all of these things in ways that are hopeful, life-giving, and true to our authentic humanness, one that at its core has a divine spark? How do we turn things around – for ourselves and for society? How do we individually and collectively evolve beyond the levels of greed and violence and destruction we're witnessing in our world today? I have no easy answers. I just know that as a follower of the way of Jesus I feel called to discover and learn as much as I can about how he responded to the violence and injustice of his time. Horsley's book is one helpful resource in this endeavor. I hope you similarly find the excerpts I share as part of this Holy Week series to be both meaningful and helpful.

The social-historical situation in which Jesus lived was permeated with violence. We can thus take a step toward a more adequate understanding of Jesus and violence by noting that Jesus, while not necessarily a pacifist, actively opposed violence, both oppressive and repressive, both political-economic and spiritual. He consistently criticized and resisted the oppressive established political-economic-religious order of his own society. Moreover, he aggressively intervened to mitigate or undo the effects of institutionalized violence, whether in particular acts of forgiveness and exorcism or in the general opening of the kingdom of God to the poor. Jesus opposed violence, but not from a distance. He did not attempt to avoid violence in search of a peaceable existence. He rather entered actively into the situation of violence, and even exacerbated the conflict. Driving out the demons involved convulsions for the possessed, and the preaching and practice of the kingdom generally brought not "peace" but "a sword." Jesus and his followers were prepared to suffer violence themselves and to allow their friends to be tortured and killed for their insistence on the rule of God.

Toward a more precise sense of Jesus; opposition to and involvement with violence we can examine where his preaching and practice are situated in the spiral of violence in Jewish Palestine. Some fragments of the gospel tradition, such as the multiply attested saying about taking up one's cross and following him, suggest that the opposition of Jesus and his followers to the system was sufficiently serious that they were likely to be executed as rebels. However, the saying linked with taking up one's cross in Mark 8:35 ("Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it") suggests that Jesus and his followers understood their opposition in terms of a protest or resistance for which the individuals would be vindicated by God, but not in terms of its being a series revolt. Saying such as these make Jesus' ministry and the actions of his followers appear similar to the protests led by the scholars in both 4 B.C.E. and 6 B.C.E., in which part of the motivation to protest against the forms of domination or exploitation was the participants' expectation that they would be vindicated by a future resurrection.

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

pp. 319-320

NEXT: Part 2

For The Wild Reed's 2015 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Cletus Wessels' book Jesus in the New Universe Story), see:
The Two Entwined Events of the Easter Experience
Resurrection in an Emerging Universe
Resurrection: A New Depth of Consciousness

For The Wild Reed's 2014 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from John Neafsey's book A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience), see:
"To Die and So to Grow"
The Way of the Wounded Warrior
Suffering and Redemption
A God With Whom It is Possible to Connect
A Discerning Balance Between Holiness and Wholeness: A Hallmark of the Resurrected Life

For The Wild Reed's 2013 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Albert Nolan’s book Jesus Before Christianity, accompanied by images of Jesus that some might call "unconventional"), see:
Jesus: The Upside-down Messiah
Jesus: Mystic and Prophet
Jesus and the Art of Letting Go
Within the Mystery, a Strange and Empty State of Suspension
Jesus: The Revelation of Oneness

For The Wild Reed's 2012 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Cynthia Bourgeault's book The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind – A New Perspective on Christ and His Message), see:
The Passion: "A Sacred Path of Liberation"
Beyond Anger and Guilt
Judas and Peter
No Deeper Darkness
When Love Entered Hell
The Resurrected Jesus . . .

For The Wild Reed's 2011 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Albert Nolan’s book Jesus Before Christianity, accompanied by images of various cinematic depictions of Jesus), see:
"Who Is This Man?"
A Uniquely Liberated Man
An Expression of Human Solidarity
No Other Way
Two Betrayals
And What of Resurrection?
Jesus: The Breakthrough in the History of Humanity
To Believe in Jesus

For The Wild Reed’s 2010 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Andrew Harvey’s book Son of Man: The Mystical Path to Christ), see:
Jesus: Path-Blazer of Radical Transformation
The Essential Christ
One Symbolic Iconoclastic Act
One Overwhelming Fire of Love
The Most Dangerous Kind of Rebel
Resurrection: Beyond Words, Dogmas and All Possible Theological Formulations
The Cosmic Christ: Brother, Lover, Friend, Divine and Tender Guide

For The Wild Reed’s 2009 Holy Week series (featuring the artwork of Doug Blanchard and the writings of Marcus Borg, James and Evelyn Whitehead, John Dominic Crossan, Andrew Harvey, Francis Webb, Dianna Ortiz, Uta Ranke-Heinemann and Paula Fredriksen), see:
The Passion of Christ (Part 1) – Jesus Enters the City
The Passion of Christ (Part 2) – Jesus Drives Out the Money Changers
The Passion of Christ (Part 3) – Last Supper
The Passion of Christ (Part 4) – Jesus Prays Alone
The Passion of Christ (Part 5) – Jesus Before the People
The Passion of Christ (Part 6) – Jesus Before the Soldiers
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
The Passion of Christ (Part 10) – Jesus Among the Dead
The Passion of Christ (Part 11) – Jesus Appears to Mary
The Passion of Christ (Part 12) – Jesus Appears to His Friends

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

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