Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essays #B.4
[Unpublished paper, July 2008]
Christian pacifism stems directly from the biblical story of God’s revelation to humanity of the normative pattern for human life. We see this revelation most clearly in the life and teaching of Jesus. One of our most sophisticated interpreters of this story has been John Howard Yoder. This essay presents a summary of Yoder’s argument in his classic book, The Politics of Jesus.
The New Testament, centered on the story, presents a political philosophy. This philosophy has at its core a commitment to pacifism, a commitment based on the normativity of Jesus Christ as the definitive revelation of God and of God’s intention for human social life. Christians have tended to miss the social implications of the New Testament story because of assumptions about both politics and Jesus.
Christian ethicists and theologians have generally posited that Jesus’ thought as expressed in his teaching and practice could not have intended to speak in a concrete way to social ethics. Jesus, it has been said, spoke only to the personal sphere or (more recently) he articulated his ethical expectations in the extreme forms he did because he (mistakenly) expected history to end very soon.
Because Jesus does not speak directly to our social ethics, Christian theology has concluded, we must derive our ethical guidance for life in the real world from other sources: common sense, calculation of what will work in a fallen world, non-Christian philosophical sources.
We must ask, though, whether, given Christian belief in Jesus as God Incarnate, should we not rather begin with an assumption that God’s revelation in Jesus’ life and teaching might well offer clear guidance for our social ethics? We at least should look at the story itself and discern whether it indeed might have social ethical relevance.
We will look first at how the gospels present Jesus, focusing on the Gospel of Luke primarily for simplicity’s sake. At the very beginning, the song of Mary in 1:46-55 upon her learning of the child she will bear, we learn that this child will address social reality. He will challenge the power elite of his world and lift up those at the bottom of the social ladder.
This child, we are told, will bring succor to those who desire the “consolation of Israel.” Those who seek freedom from the cultural domination of one great empire after another that had been imposed upon Jesus’ people for six centuries will find comfort. From the beginning, this child is perceived in social and political terms. Continue reading