a non-linear story, biblical authority, by grace, Christian Calling, Christian community, Christian Humility, Christian Submission, Dualism, gospel jesus, Jesus the Messiah, Justice Issues, politics of god, Redemption of Creation, the Christian story, the kingdom of God
In these past several posts I have suggested a new way of seeing what we might call the politics of God, the way in which God intended his creation to rule itself under God’s authority. In contrast to that Godly way I have suggested, all roads which lead away from God’s justice/righteousness ultimately arrive at what we often call empire.
In my last post I reviewed the history of the late second-temple period of Israel, focusing on how Israel moved toward empire while Jesus came, not to remove his people from creation but to re-establish God’s abundant living in creation. I wrote in this context:
Jesus came to save his creation from sin. Not in heaven later; now and forever “on earth as it is in heaven.”
When Jesus came to bring new creation to God’s troubled world, his own people, Israel, were trapped in a treaty with the empire of their day, Rome.
The Sorry End of the Second Temple
In the end, Israel chose to use the basic methodology of empire, namely violence, in its catastrophic attempt to rid it of foreign domination. As Jesus said of Israel at the beginning of his last week on earth:
When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:41-44.
Israel had a last chance. It could have recognized the visitation of God. It could have turned and walked in the ways which make for peace. Rather, Israel continued to be committed to violence and to fight the empire using the tools and ways of empire, in the spirit of empire. In and because of that violent spirit, Israel was destroyed.
The Gentile Nations
So what about the other peoples, those whom John in the Revelation calls the ten nations which have given their authority to the big red Roman beast, those nations which will eventually be free to rule? What effect did the gospel of King Jesus have on those people. In my basic beliefs post I wrote:
All the other nations (of the known world) in Jesus’ time were either trapped under imperial Rome or in the smaller empires and tribes on Rome’s borders.
We often assume the work of Paul and the other apostles was to found communities among these Gentile nations who were taught to forget about life on earth and prepare for life away from the earth, in heaven. When we think in that dualistic way we miss the import of the witness of the evangelist Luke concerning the impact of the early community as the gospel spread and took root all over the empire.
One of the first inklings of the overt, explosive effect Jesus’ new-creation movement would have is in the description of the Jews from all over the empire who heard his message and believed during the festival of Pentecost: Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs… (Acts 2:9-11a).
Some Jews as well as converts to Judaism from the many provinces of the empire plus some from the smaller empires to the east, some were going to carry something of the new way home with them, like leaven sprinkled and hidden in a great, massive lump. And then, after the unbelieving Jewish temple leadership had had enough of the new way and tossed them out, Philip went to Samaria.
Whom Do You Hate?
In a word association game if I say, “Samaritan.” you will almost certainly respond with, “Good.” Do we have any idea how perverse our reaction to that name would seem to any self-respecting second-temple Jew? In such a game played in that day, if I blurted out, “Samaritan!” the normal response would be,
Dirty, no good, rotten, lying, thieving, cheating, miserable, mongrel heretic!
Jews hated Samaritans. They knew, first thing, the messiah, after he was proclaimed, after he had driven out the thieves who claimed to be the chief priests; the first thing the messiah of God would do after he settled things in Jerusalem, surely, would be to take his resurrection army north, down into the hill country of Samaria, where he would root out and destroy every last Samaritan man, woman and child. He would drive his sword through them all!
The Beginning of Everything New!
Yet the signs of the new creation, the new covenant, the beginnings of the conquering of conquest itself through the blood of the cross meant that rather than destroying his enemies Jesus would make them his friends. And the Spirit-driven earnest of the Pentecost sermons was that this new way was to be sprinkled here and there until all the world learned the wisdom of Yahweh and beat its swords into plowshares and neither learned nor practiced war any more.
A Powerful Signpost of the Kingdom Come!
Early in his letter-writing St. Paul notes that all such distinctions as Jew and Greek (and thus, even that of Samaritan) were null and void in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:27-29). Then, much later, when writing a letter to one of those communities of faith which he had founded in the Roman province of Asia, he declares,
Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. Ephesians 2:11-16
It was not just in Judea and Samaria that ugly ancient walls of separation were coming down. It was all over, everywhere: peace, justice/righteousness, reconciliation!
I wonder how many Gentiles, their hearts far, far away of God, heard from a friend about a meeting in their own city where Jews, standoffish Jews, sat down and ate with Gentiles just like him, greeted Gentiles just like him with a hug and a kiss! How many curious Gentiles came to such meetings and were astounded, blown right over by the love of God, the peace of God in their midst?
This new-community forming out of unmixable clans and tribes threatened to change the whole world in unimaginable ways. So did the new relationship between men and women and the new non-hierarchical configuration of bosses and employees which the apostle proclaimed.
From the heart flow all the issues of life (Proverbs 4:23). New hearts in a new community meant news ways, flowing from redeemed hearts, changing customs, establishing new and just traditions and structures, transforming all the world.
It also meant the end for bullies. And without bullies empire is just not possible.
Am I beginning to fill in for you the content of the plan of which St. Paul was reminding the Corinthians when he wrote,
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. I Corinthians 1:26-29.
It has always been the plan of God to use the dim bulbs of the kingdom, people like you and me, to nullify despotism, greed, violence, bullying; in short, to bring an end to empire. So what about now and what about here?
Next post: how Christians have often changed the world for the better, nullifying the effects and even sometimes the roots of empire.