Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Truth and grace

Bill Gnade points out that Jesus lived in a time of political outrage, when the Roman emperor began to claim de facto, if not de jure power of a god. And yet Jesus' mission was not political:
How is it that throughout Jesus' ministry as recorded in the Gospels He says virtually nothing, nothing at all, about living as a captive to the Romans? How is it He never mentions this injustice; how is it that He never talks about the government at all? Once He mentions Caesar: He holds up a coin and asks, "Whose image is on this?" But He never rails against what was clearly the anti-Christ on that coin; He never mentions Him again. There is no talk in Jesus' ministry about this captivity. He is only focused on the captivity of sin, guilt and the fear of death. There is no mention of social injustice; He is not preoccupied at all with subverting the power structure of the street, marketplace, Senate or Sanhedrin; He could care less about the collusion between opportunistic Jews and their Roman occupiers. Jesus is talking "sheep" and "goats" and "lilies" and "vineyards" and "children" and "adultery" and "stones" and "virgins" and "love." He is not talking politics; He is talking about pastoral life while scribbling in the dirt or fishing in the sea. While Rome the Parasite leeches the life-blood from Israel, the real King of the Jews is not raising the alarm about such parasitism; He merely blesses a few loaves of bread, some fish, and He feeds the masses. In His simplicity there is nothing radical or progressive; He is not seated in Rome as a dying idol, He's a shepherd walking about in a living idyll. And when He meets a Roman centurion -- an oppressor with a sword and a god above him, one he obeys immediately -- Jesus blesses the man for his faith; and in that blessing, Jesus, the King of all, says NOTHING about the centurion's sword, his orders or the gods that he serves. Jesus says nothing.

And yet He is the revolutionary.
In all his writings, Bill demonstrates a gift for observing and analyzing the political world. From this excerpt you may be able to see a glimpse of why I think Bill is one of the best (and most polite) writers on the Internet.


Blogger graham old said...

Wow, I really must read a different Bible!

When you consider Jesus' frequent clash with the Jewish leaders and his Messianic role, I can hardly fathom an apolitical understanding of the gospels.

9:58 AM, April 17, 2007  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

"When you consider Jesus' frequent clash with the Jewish leaders and his Messianic role, I can hardly fathom an apolitical understanding of the gospels."

Valid point.

1:07 PM, April 17, 2007  
Blogger David said...

I too see Jesus' message as a political and religious threat to the powers, temple, religious, and political, that were. Jesus in the end pushed them so far that they had to have him murdered.

3:53 PM, April 17, 2007  
Blogger Bill Gnade said...

Dear Graham Old,

I appreciate your point, which is why I had noted a similar point in the postscript of my essay. Perhaps I should quote it here:

PS. If Jesus was at all critical of political oppression, it was not of the Roman occupiers, but of those religious who oppressed their own kind. Jesus was quite open about His discontent with the Pharisees; these moral and religious leaders laid heavy burdens on others they themselves would not carry. Sounds quite familiar, really. But the Pharisees were ostensibly on the side of Israel. They were not occupiers, they were not minions of the god-man in Rome. Yet it was these folks that Jesus berated and chided the most: their morality upset Him far more than did the idolatrous Romans' behavior. Why? Why did He seem more intent on freeing people of their obligatory moral duties -- apparent rules for proper living, good works and justice -- than He was in liberating Palestine from the grip of an anti-Christ and his armies?

I don't know if this illuminates your point or not. But I think it does.

If the Greek root for politics is the same for city and citizen, then perhaps Jesus was very political: he intended to make us true citizens of the only city that counts. But there is something else that politics suggests, namely the drafting of policy. It is clear that Jesus did not seem particularly interested in drafting policy; it seems equally clear he wanted nothing to do with being a citizen of a city freed of Israel's occupiers. His very language about Jerusalem is both loving and brutal: He loved that city, but there will be no stone atop another in the end of days. In other words, he is not interested in salvaging the city he loves as it stands before him.

I guess my point is that Jesus does not seem at all interested in a battle over policy OR membership (citizenship) in either the pagan or Jewish cults. He is not brokering deals with Sadducees or Pharisees; and he is surely not pounding out compromises with anyone. One would think he would be somewhat interested in freeing people from institutional oppression; at least, one would think that he would be overtly interested in these things. But he clearly isn't.

How can this be? How come he is so quiet about Rome? How could he be so silent about Caesar? And why the silence?

I guess Jesus' messianic role is political, as you say, but that seems to be a diminution of what it means to be a messiah. It was the Zealots who longed for a political messiah, no? I don't think they found one in Jesus, do you? He seemed to resist, even defy, the very notion.

Lastly, I guess I am averring that Jesus' politics, if he had any, were not one whit this-worldly. He came to set the captives free indeed, but not from prisons anyone could visit. He came to feed the hungry, but his food and drink were not something we could see. His mission was nearly consumed with delivering the soul, the hungry, self-imprisoned soul.

Thank you for giving me a chance to think through my ideas a little more. I am sure that my thoughts will change over time as I pursue this thesis further.



10:13 PM, April 17, 2007  
Blogger Bill Gnade said...


You are incredibly kind to me. Thank you for the high praise. I hope I can live up to it.

Thanks for your ministry to me and to so many others.

Your brother in Christ,

Bill Gnade

10:16 PM, April 17, 2007  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

David: There's no doubt Jesus' teachings had profound political ramifications--especially in his day. But the Gospel is not primarily political (just as it is not primarily physical, although Christians will usually be physically healthier than the lost).

The Gospel will always be a threat to political and commercial interests. That's probably why Paul made such a point of telling Christians to obey the government.

Thanks for adding to the discussion.

7:59 AM, April 18, 2007  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

You're quite welcome, Bill.

Thanks for discussing the issue at hand here at TS. My post was intended to direct readers to your site, but I'm happy to see these issues discussed here.

Your point is right on target that seeing Jesus' messianic role as political is "a diminution of what it means to be a messiah." Exactly.

As you say, Jesus' politics were not this-worldly. Your comments remind me of an account by Eusebius of how late in the first century, the Emperor Domitian discovered that two of Jesus' grand-nephews were still alive and farming in Judea. Domitian was concerned about the idea of Jesus being "King of the Jews" and worried that his kinsmen might pose a political threat in the region.

The Emperor brought the two men before him for interrogation. He asked them if they still followed their uncle. Yes, they said. They are members of his kingdom, which exists not on this world but in the sky. The emperor looked at their hands and determined they were indeed farmers. He dismissed them as superstitious yokels and allowed them to go back to their farms.

8:07 AM, April 18, 2007  

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