Begins with the wilderness

From the wilderness there is a journey to Jerusalem

The word of God that came to John in the wilderness does not remain there. It does not begin as a ‘top down’ movement and does not proceed in that way, but for sure there is a challenge to the top. Jesus spent most of his time away from the centre. Although it was hard to stay hidden he did not pursue a journey that promoted his own visibility, but when the time comes he sets out with purpose to Jerusalem:

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem (Lk. 9:51).

In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! (Lk. 13: 33).

Jerusalem is the centre for faith, but it is compromised. Compromised with political power. The High priestly family is one of the richest in Jerusalem. Religion and politics not mixing? So often they mix when there is a symbiotic relationship. Religion getting privileges from the political arena and politics getting the support of religion so as the status quo is maintained. In the midst of this compromised relationship the Jewish hierarchy are not only willing, but keen, to sacrifice Jesus so that the nation has a future and the Romans do not take away their Temple. The Jewish court was the place where it was declared:

If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all!  You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 13: 48-50).

Jesus was ultimately judged by the Jewish court and handed over to the Romans, so that the Jewish system could continue! Together, religious and political power bonded together in economic transaction, crucified Jesus. Ironically it was the Romans a generation later that took away the Temple and nation. His death did indeed save them and the Temple, but not as they thought. He gave them a path of salvation so that they might not be as one of the nations, and the ‘true temple’, one not built by hands might emerge. In this context we can read

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to humanity by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

Peter and John are addressing the Jewish ‘rulers and elders’, quoting Scripture about the rejected stone becoming the cornerstone (of the Temple), this is not a universal Scripture concerning salvation, but in its context a Scripture about the path of ‘salvation’ that comes through Jesus for the nation of Israel – and salvation from the coming troubles that Jesus prophesied would come within a generation. Salvation, amidst the destruction of Temple and dispersion of the nation, was promised through their Messiah, and the focus is not on salvation in the ‘beyond this life’ setting but salvation to be who they were meant to be in a ‘this life’ setting, the setting of the imperial and political world. All who are in Jesus will be saved. Saved from the Roman onslaught, saved from being focused on a building in Jerusalem, and saved from being a member of a nation that had so become one of the nations. Saved to be a living stone in temple not built with hands and saved to be part of a holy nation, a royal priesthood, aliens throughout the nations.

In hoping to find continued safety the religious powers to preserve their status were willing to sacrifice Jesus; conversely Jesus was willing to sacrifice himself to save the nation, but not as a compromised through wrong-political-alliance-nation. The Jewish elders were able to justify the ultimate exercise of power and control (taking life) to preserve themselves and who they were – the chosen people. Change if need be, for them, will come via that level of ultimate control. Jesus though takes the path of laying down his life to effect change. Change will come through death, not change through killing.

His travel to Jerusalem was to break the hold of compromised religion, for then there is real hope for transformation beyond. There is a process. The faith community must be set free from wrong political alliance and dependency. Religion is a parody of real faith so that has to be broken, and as Jerusalem was the centre for that, to Jerusalem Jesus travels. The first step is that the Prophet has to die in Jerusalem. In the same way as religion is a parody of true faith so the wider world of the Roman empire (as per all empires) was a parody of the rule of God among people. Not surprisingly the focus shifts from Jerusalem to Rome. The era of the prophets dying in Jerusalem is over. Rome is where they will live… and die.

One thought on “Begins with the wilderness

  1. love the theology. I am interested in the dynamic of out of the wilderness. As I see people searching for something new, something that will ground them, many appear to be rejecting organized Christianity. It is so morally compromised. One of the ways it is compromised is in its tacit agreement and support of ravaging the earth, destroying ecosystems, polluting and killing other species. I know there is no such explicit directive in the OT or NT to behave that way but the interpretation of the Genesis account with the call to exercise ‘dominion’ over the earth is a problem.

    ( a side note: the OT was written in a context of statelets emerging to use agriculture both to manage the land and to manage populations so I understand why the writers put it there. They wanted to encourage settlement for agricultural production rather than resistance by nomads to emerging states. The Genesis statement might be more about encouraging state control than living rightly with the rest of the planet. Perhaps it is time to reexamine the context of that writing. Yes, I am aware of some Christian theology formulated to call us to care for creation, not sure how that works with that Genesis statement. Do we need to reinterpret the word there?)

    The answer for many is a rejection of organized religion that includes a reconnection with the land, with wilderness. I was thinking about how the land is now in the process of vomiting us out as promised in the the OT should the Israelites abuse the land. We have abused the land, horribly, and climate change along with all the extreme weather and other outcomes is a means for the land to vomit us out. (I mean that literally, climate change challenges the continued existence of our species as well as many, many others)

    For many the answer appears to be an attempt to reconnect with wilderness. Not sure how that works theologically. One of the first questions I will ask my ecology students next term is ‘can humans share the planet with other species?’ Of course they will say yes. But all of our planning, construction, and economic enterprises say otherwise.

    I had a conversation recently with someone who told me birds get down their chimney. They die there. I was horrified. The bird is dying. Unnecessarily. Due to human laziness since the chimney can be fixed to keep them out. But this is who we are. How do I connect someone like that back to the reality of the wilderness around them? In conversation with a friend this week I spoke about a skunk who wants to winter over in my garden shed. His answer was to shoot it. Beyond the legal problems with that, I was again horrified. Why is the immediate impulse to murder the creature that is interrupting our lives? Why must we kill everything? How does our theology answer that?

Comments are closed.