Provocative or what?

We have recently begun some research on the overthrow of the Islamic (Moorish) rule of Spain, a rule that lasted some 700 years. Yesterday we were put in touch with an extended article in the Guardian on this very thing and last night ordered the book, the reviews of which suggest it will be invaluable to our research. Again and again when the timing is right the information needed just seems to surface. Pursuing a repentant journey on this will be necessary and might cause just a few questions, as there are not a few who see the Crusades and the defence (e.g.) of Malta as truly ‘Christian’. Constantine and subsequent Christendom not being an aberration for a number of them.

The other extreme can be to spiritualise the message of Jesus in a way that makes it non-political. This is something that we cannot see as possible from the NT. The message, indeed the very terms, such as ‘gospel’, ‘son of God’, ‘ekklesia’, ‘kingdom’ and even ‘repentance’ are deeply embedded in a first century political culture. We would need to make the actions and words of Jesus non-culturally applicable and somehow ‘timeless’. We know we are not supposed to take a text out of context, but what is more important is not to take a (the) life out of context.

The entry into Jerusalem was certainly very provocative. Many scholars suggest that there were two entries into Jerusalem on that spring day. From the east came Jesus into the city, cheered on with the cries of ‘Hosanna’. Most of his followers were not the elite and powerful. On the west side of the city entered another, Rome’s representative, Pilate. One proclaimed the kingdom of God, the other the kingdom, power and glory of Rome. The entry of the Roman governors of Judea had become standard practice for Jewish festivals. As Jerusalem swelled with the huge influx of people, so Rome, probably both for practical reasons (increased security) and political reasons (an opportune time to flex muscle) always increased their mighty presence.

So on the west side a visible demonstration of power. Cavalry, foot soldiers, leather armour, shields, banners, golden eagles as standards, the beating of drums. A visible display of power and might. A timely reminder that peace, Roman style, is in the land. Peace enforced through force, and displayed visibly for all to see when necessary through the brutal practice of crucifixion. An open display of power – that was the cross. Another aspect involving a political statement then is Paul’s words in Col. 2:14,15

He took away the weapons of the powers and authorities. He made a public show of them. He won the battle over them by dying on the cross.

A faith statement in the extreme, and an extremely pointed political statement. The cross displayed the ultimate Imperial power, so went the narrative of the Empire. The gospel narrative absolutely negated that Imperial narrative.

From the west came the power of Rome into the city. From the east side Jesus entered on a donkey manifestly fulfilling the entry of a prophesied future king to Jerusalem ‘riding on a donkey’ (Zech. 9:9). This king will not parade weapons of war but rather banish war from the land:

I will take the chariots away from Ephraim. I will remove the war horses from Jerusalem. I will break the bows that are used in battle.
Your king will announce peace to the nations. He will rule from ocean to ocean. His kingdom will reach from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.
I will set your prisoners free from where their enemies are keeping them. I will do it because of the blood that put my covenant with you into effect.
Return to your place of safety, you prisoners who still have hope. Even now I announce that I will give you back much more than you had before. (Zech. 9:10-12).

Rome’s path to peace was through conquest and war (the first rider on the white horse in Revelation). Jesus’ path to peace is through the shedding of his own blood (the rider on the second white horse in Revelation).

Political and deeply provocative. There is a build up over those days. A coin is shown to Jesus when he is asked about paying taxes to Rome. The image on the coin is of Caesar, the divine Caesar, the son of god. His reply is not a ‘there are two realms and never do they mix’. Rather echoing the final words of Mattathias to his sons who had called them to gather the people and avenge the wrong that had been done to Israel, saying

Pay back the Gentiles in full, and obey the commands of the law.

Judas (his son) then subsequently led the Maccabean revolt, cleansing the Temple and refortifying Jerusalem, establishing a new royal dynasty. That indeed was paying back the Gentiles.

Now it is no longer Greece but Rome that is the overlord. Give to Caesar what is his due! Those words could have been taken at the same level as those of Mattathias. An armed rebellion could have been sparked by those words, and I think that was exactly how Judas Iscariot (did he want to live up to that name?) understood them.

Yet it remains that if Jesus kingdom was of this world that his followers would have taken up the sword. His kingdom comes from another source all-together. Deeply political, but the entry to the city was of a different order then, and needs to be so again today.

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