Saturday, December 5, 2009

I don't think that means what you think it means: part 2

Jesus' entire recorded life displays a value on peace and non-violence in such a way that it has grabbed my attention and arrested my theological development. He says, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves." (Luke 22:25-26)

Greg Boyd (a pastor from the St. Paul, Minn. area) refers to this teaching from Jesus as the conflict between "power over" and "power under". It is Boyd's assertion that there is nothing in the life of Jesus which would allow one of his followers to employ violence as a representative of the kingdom of heaven. Obviously, worldly powers like police forces and national armies would by their very existence demand the use of violence to accomplish their goals. Should I as a follower of Jesus participate in these vocations? Would I as a follower of Jesus have the same value system or goals as other soldiers or officers? Can I use violence even in a "good" cause and still claim solidarity with Jesus?

I am not sure that I can. Furthermore, I think the readiness with which we as Christians have aligned ourselves with political positions that the powers of our world have declared, weakens the church and draw us away from the "power under" model that Jesus lived. It's as if we settle for the choices that the world presents to us as the only viable positions on a subject.

Are you pro-life or pro-choice? I suspect the answer to that question is meaningless if the follower of Jesus is not ready to help a young pregnant woman in her time of need. As James says, "You can tell me what your faith is, but I will show you my faith by my deeds." Would I give of my time, energy, money, and family to support a confused teen through her decision to give birth or not, to keep the baby or not? What am I willing to do if I decide to love unwed mothers. Certainly, "power over" displays of picketing and harassing do not look like Jesus. "Power under" asks the question are you prepared to serve and sacrifice for young single moms.

Just something we should talk about.


  1. What are your thoughts on Jesus driving out the merchants with a whip?

  2. As this is the only place the writers of the Gospels record Jesus using physical violence in his opposition to human power structures I see it as different than the bulk of his teaching. There are however, a few significant parts to this story.

    First, Jesus had a ready tongue when he encountered religious authority that kept people from experiencing the love of his Father. He had many choice words for religious leaders who were more interested in their position than the people they were called to serve. I think it is significant that this aggresive act specifically targetted those who had been entrusted with leadership of God's people.

    Second, Jesus clearly declairs that he refuses to submit to religious authority that has been united with human power structures. (He drove out those who were marrying human financial values to worship of His Father.)

    My understanding of this story simply put is: Jesus' kingdom is clearly one of peace and serving. However, he did not impose on us a new law of pacifism, rather he put his spirit in us to guide us into all truth. If the Spirit moves us to holy anger that manifests itself in aggresive behaior, so be it. But I believe this will be the exception not the rule.