Tag Archives: Jesus

Jesus’ Confrontation with Empire

Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essays #B.7

[Published in Nathan E. Yoder and Carol A. Scheppard, eds., Exiles in the Empire: Believers Church Perspectives on Politics (Kitchener, Ontario: Pandora Press, 2006), 27-41.]

 At the core of the believers church ideal, as I understand it, lies an unequivocal commitment to follow Jesus Christ.  When we discuss “God, Democracy, and U.S. Power” in light of the believers church ideal, part of our task surely must be to ask, What might we learn from Jesus’ own confrontation with empire that might speak to ours?  James McClendon, in his discussion of the believers church ideal—what he called the (small-b) baptist vision – identifies a key element as the sense of close connection between the present-day believer and the biblical narrative.  We are part of the same story; what happened then is still going on now; “this is that.”[1]

I will reflect on the story of Jesus as part of the broader biblical story with the assumption that our story is part of the same story. What the Bible tells us about people of faith and the great powers has great relevance for our lives. Though I will, except for a few points at the end, focus on the biblical story, I want to be clear that I consider Jesus’ confrontation with empire as directly relevant for North American residents of our world’s one great empire.

This is a big issue for U.S. Christians. We have so much to appreciate in this country—religious freedom not least. However, many of our nation’s practices resemble all too closely the imperialism of the biblical empires. It is as if we have two Americas, America the pioneer democracy and America the dominant empire.[2]  I believe that attention to the Bible’s empires can help us as we discern how we respond to the latter America.

First, I will make the point, obvious once we notice it but rarely part of how we actually read the Bible, that the entire Bible, including most definitely the four gospels but actually ranging all the way from the Genesis creation story (written, at least according to some, to counter Babylonian influences during the sixth century BCE) to the final vision of God’s saving work in the Book of Revelation (written, most scholars agree, to counter Roman influences in the late first century CE), reflects the setting of God’s people amidst the various empires, or great powers, of the biblical world—from Egypt and Babylon down to Rome.

Jesus’ confrontation with the empire of his day must be seen in the much broader context of the biblical faith community’s confrontation with various empires. Some of the elements of our modern-day believers church ideal echo key elements of the biblical story: (1) a commitment to sustaining a faith community that seeks to maintain a free space over against the domination of empire; (2) a conviction that this faith community has the vocation of witnessing to the surrounding world of God’s healing love and against the violence and oppression of empires; and (3) a hope that this vocation of showing love actually will have a transforming impact on the entire world, including the great powers themselves. When Jesus bumps up against Rome—a “bump” that cost him his life—he continues in the prophetic tradition of his people, a tradition going back to Israel’s earliest days. Continue reading

John’s Gospel in brief

Ted Grimsrud

During the Spring of 2012, I have had the challenge of writings a series of (very) short Bible study reflections for the Mennonite World Review (which was Mennonite Weekly Review when my series of articles began in February).

This has been an excellent discipline. I have written these kinds of reflections for MWR several times before, and I always enjoy doing so—not least because I am often asked to write about texts I am unfamiliar with.

For some time, I have wanted to look more closely at John’s Gospel. I have tended to focus on the other gospels much more (including a recent series of thirteen sermons on the Gospel of Luke). John is a bit different, to say the least. Continue reading

What Is Theology?

What are we doing when we “do theology”? In this essay, “What is Theology?” I argue that our theology has to do with the things in life that we value most. Christian theology should share the hierarchy of values that Jesus embodied–most clearly stated in his call to love God and neighbor. This essay is the first in a series that examines core Christian doctrines, consistently asking what shape they should take if they are articulated in light of Jesus.

Pacifism With Justice (8)

Christian pacifists generally focus much of our explanatory energy on Jesus’ life and teaching, as we should. However, we should also be attentive to the relevance of New Testament portrayals of Jesus’ death for our pacifist convictions. This essay, “Christian Pacifism and New Testament Understandings of Jesus’ Death,” which is from my book-in-process, Pacifism with Justice: The Biblical and Theological Case, suggests that one key lesson from the New Testament is that Jesus’ death exposes the tendencies of three central human structures (religious institutions [the temple], cultural ordering systems [the law], and political structures [the empire]) to fuel the spiral of violence–hence, rendering themselves unworthy of our trust. These structures proved themselves to be God’s rivals, not God’s servants. Recognizing this should help human beings give their ultimate trust to God’s peaceable way, not to the violent ways of these Powers.

Pacifism With Justice (7)

If we understand Jesus to have proclaimed a socially relevant message–including a call to peacemaking and nonviolence, we need to be attentive to his social context and how he responded to it. This essay, “Jesus’ Confrontation With Empire.”, is a chapter in my book-in-progress, Pacifism With Justice: The Biblical and Theological Case. One argument I make here is that Jesus is in full continuity with much in the Old Testament that expressed strong antipathy toward the world’s great empires and understood the community of the promise to be called to offer the world a social alternative to empire as a way of life.

Pacifism With Justice (6)

For Christian pacifism, as I understand it, Jesus provides our basis with his life, teaching, and identity as God’s Son. A core chapter, then, in my book-in-process, Pacifism With Justice: The Biblical and Theological Case, focuses on Jesus. This chapter, “Pacifism and the Story of Jesus,” essentially summarizes the argument of the great Mennonite theologian, John Howard Yoder, in his classic book The Politics of Jesus.

Pacifism With Justice (5)

I believe that Christian pacifism ultimately rests on our understanding of God. As Jesus taught, when we love our enemies we are “children of our Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:45). An important aspect of our understanding of God is how we view that salvation that God offers. In this chapter, “Salvation in the Prophets, Salvation in Jesus: Mercy Not Retribution,” which is from my book-in-progress, Pacifism With Justice: The Biblical and Theological Case, I look at biblical understandings of salvation. I argue for a strong continuity among the teachings of the Old Testament prophets and Jesus–all agreeing that God’s mercy lies at the heart of salvation, not retribution.