Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Politics of Jesus by Yoder

This is one of those books that I have been meaning to read for about 30 years. Originally published in 1975, I have the second edition, copyright 1994. It could have been written yesterday, it is destined to become a classic. I quote from chapter 6 (italics his):

"Because Jesus' particular way of rejecting the sword and at the same time condemning those who weilded it was politically relevant, both the Sanhedrin and the Procurator had to deny him the right to live, in the name of both of their forms of political responsibility. His alternative was so relevant, so much a threat, that Pilate could afford to free, in exchange for Jesus, the ordinary Guevara-type insurrectionist Barabbas. Jesus' way is not less but more relevant to the question of how society moves than is the struggle for possession of the levers of command; to this Pilate and Caiaphas testify by their judgment on him."

<idle musing>
Pretty powerful statement. Before pacifism is rejected, Jesus needs to be taken seriously. Not the sanitized Jesus of popular Christianity, but the Jesus of the New Testament. Not the Jesus of the scholar, conveniently reinterpreted in the scholar's own image (as Schweitzer showed us 100 years ago--but we still do it), but the raw Jesus of the Gospels. Not the politically correct Jesus of the Republicans or Democrats, but the Jesus on the Mount who calls us to radical discipleship in a new kingdom that is breaking through right now. That Jesus is not safe or easily put into a box.

Frankly, I prefer the one that we have sanitized; he doesn't upset my lifestyle. But, I am not called by the comfortable Jesus, but rather by the radical Jesus who demands of me kingdom living in an anti-kingdom world. An impossible task, but one made possible by the indwelling power of the Spirit of God!
</idle musing>


Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


I will bite on this one – so to speak – what do we make of the “other” Jesus that Yoder and Haorowitz and others don’t want to confront? For instance what do we make of Luke 22:36 in which Jesus states, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.” Or, how do we interpret Jesus and the cleansing of the Temple? Do we have the “right” as his ambassadors to interpret his cleansing hermeneutic as our own? If not then why?

Likewise, what do we make of the Levitical law which says if you see a woman being defiled in a field and you strike the offender then no bloodguilt shall be assigned to you? Yet again, we read if we kill in order to protect the innocent then we have committed no crime in the eyes of Yahweh.

Allow me to say this – I believe that violence should be the Last answer rather than the first. However, if the evil man or the fallen man permits me no alternative do I not have a mandate in Scripture to defend my family? Speaking directly to Yoder, does the government (cf. Romans 13) not have the divine sanction to wield the sword as an extension of Yahweh’s hand? Again, the use of the sword would be in the gravest extreme but should it not have that ability to check evil?

jps said...


I can't claim to know the answers to these questions. But, in our culture we have written off the Jesus that Yoder, et alii talk about. I think we need to address their Jesus, just as they (well, Yoder is dead...) need to address the "other" Jesus.

I had a professor who said that I underestimate the power of evil, he had fought in WW2 as a marine and seen "evil" first hand. My reply, perhaps too glib, is that he underestimated the power of God and prayer. Hey, I was a cocky 22 year old :(

But, you must admit that in our culture the violent option is chosen before the non-violent option is fully explored. Do we as Christians not take seriously the fact that when we kill someone, we are probably sending them to an eternity without God? That should cause us to be more hesitant to pull the trigger or drop a bomb, etc.

How often do we resort to violence just to defend a lifestyle that is not biblical? If we take seriously the sermon on the mount, shouldn't we be less self-indulgent as a nation? Why is there no difference between the lifestyle of the typical American Christian and non-Christian? Those are the issues that need to be seriously addressed, without forgetting to address the issues that you raise.


Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


You are right on target (no pun intended) when you ask why there are no differences between the lifestyle of the Christian and non-Christian. I am with you on this issue. Likewise, I think we are in agreement that both pictures of Jesus should be fully explored. I am not sure why we have become so violent - I am speaking here of humanity in general not just the US. I could be that we have always been so violent and just now the media is such that we receive the news instantly. We are agreed that violence is the last option.

A case in point. About a year ago my pregnant wife went into the local Wal-Mart to get something which pregnant wives get (what it was I don't remember). I was left in my truck with the specific responsibility of keeping it warm and running. As I sat there I was reading a good book from Eisenbrauns and lo and behold three Hispanic individuals came up to my truck. The windows were rolled up since it was Jan. Immediately the leader produced a lead pipe and began banging on my door. Other items were also produced by the trio. I called 911 and produced my .44 special handgun (I have a concealed handgun license) and spoke calmly. Here is what I told them - "There is nothing in this truck worth your life. Please leave." In so doing I was giving them fair warning and giving them an out. If you (criminal) cross any other line then I will shoot you. If you choose to go away and leave me alone then you live another day. Thankfully they chose option #2. The police did come and searched the lot and surrounding lots but did not find them. My point is that had I not offered them another non-violent option I would have had to use force if they had car jacked me.