Sunday, March 23, 2008

Two ways. . .

Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30. It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most sacred week of the Jewish year. . . .

One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class. . . .

On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus's procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate's proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus's crucifixion. . . .

Imagine the imperial procession's arrival in the city. A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful.

Pilate's procession displayed not only imperial power, but also Roman imperial theology. According to this theology, the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God. . . . For Rome's Jewish subjects, Pilate's procession embodied not only a rival social order, but also a rival theology. . . .

We return to the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem. . . . Jesus planned it in advance. Jesus approaches the city from the east at the end of the journey from Galilee, he tells two of his disciples to go to the next village and get him a colt they will find there, one that has never been ridden, that is, a young one. They do so, and Jesus rides the colt down the Mount of Olives to the city surrounded by a crowd of enthusiastic followers and sympathizers, who spread their cloaks, strew leafy branches on the road, and shout, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" As one of our professors in graduate school said about forty years ago, this looks like a planned political demonstration.

The meaning of the demonstration is clear, for it uses symbolism from the prophet Zechariah in the Jewish Bible. According to Zechariah, a king would be coming to Jerusalem (Zion) "humble, and riding a colt, the foal of a donkey" (9:9). In Mark, the reference to Zechariah is implicit. Matthew, when he treats Jesus's entry into Jerusalem, makes the connection explicit by quoting the passage: "Tell the daughter of Zion, look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Matt. 21:5, quoting Zech. 9:9). The rest of the Zechariah passage details what kind of king he will be:

He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations. (9:10)

This king, riding on a donkey, will banish war from the land--no more chariots, war-horses, or bows. Commanding peace to the nations, he will be a king of peace.

Jesus's procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate's procession embodied the power, glory and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus's procession embodied an alternative vision, the kingdom of God. this contrast--between kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar--is central to. . .the story of Jesus and early Christianity.

from The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus's final Week in Jerusalem, Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan (HarperCollins 2006), pages 2-5.



Anonymous said...

Why does it seem to take complete radicals to get us to see what was right in front of us all along? Maybe radical just goes with radical: Borg and Crossan see radical implications in the Bible stories precisely because their radical theology has taken off the blinders most of us look through when reading the Bible. I, for one, hope I can see the radical message they see without the radical theology behind it, but passages like this show what a debt we owe them, even if we may sometimes disagree with them.

Larry James said...

Anonymous 7:44 p.m., I couldn't agree more. The truth of things is so often denied to us who build defenses against new insight by thought systems that justify our own personal choices and values.

Justin said...


How does this fit in with your desire for political change in America that fits your worldview? For me, it seems clear that the Kingdom of God was one that didn't need or desire the power of empire, that it was a revolution of people, reacting nonviolently, to violent injustice of the principalities and powers that ruled over them (and still rule over us today).

How is America any different from Rome, and if Jesus didn't try to change the Roman empire to fit a Kingdom mentality, why should we try to make the American government one that abides by the spirit of the law of the Kingdom of God?

Larry James said...

Justin, I suppose I'd argue that we have more possibilities than even Jesus today, thanks in large part to the application and acceptance of many of his principles. I believe St. John's account of his life talks about his followers being able to do even more than he did. For example, the abolitionist movement of the 19th Century was fueled and directed by people of faith. Would you say that Christians should not have been involved in that human rights effort because the system they faced was all about power and its cruel use? Surely not. So today, we have many more possibilities to see life improved via the application of his principles without forcing the particulars of religion on anyone. To refuse to challenge the "principalities and powers" when we have the opportunity to do so seems foolish at best and faithless at worst.

If not this approach, what is the right approach? Just sit back, let the oppression and suffering go on and wait for the "sweet by and by"?

Justin said...


You have drastically misunderstood my theology. I am totally for non violent resistance to the evils of the "principalities and powers", and I think non violent resistance is key in shaping a more just society, just as with the movement for the abolition of slavery. However, would you agree that the means the government used to free the slaves was just? Fighting a war that was up close and personal, killing many who weren't even fighting for their "right" to own slaves, but for the rights of states to secede from the Federal government? All other western nations ended slavery without a war, most of them bought the slaves from the slaveholders and then made it illegal. We fought a bloody war.

And even after that war, justice didn't really come. What did happen was the force of government tried to change hearts, and it actually hardened them. Would the church have done better, rather than lobbying the government and electing someone who makes Bush look good on civil rights and war crimes, by resisting non violently and showing the injustice of the system, thereby making reconciliation of all parties the goal? When you force your ideologies on people, true justice doesn't happen. That's why the law in the old testament didn't work in creating justice. That's why Jesus came. Changing hearts is the answer, and that is the goal of non violent resistance to societal or governmental evil. When you are willing to suffer to show the injustice of the principalities and powers, people notice, and their hearts will change. That's what made the civil rights movement so pivotal. It wasn't the laws passed by congress that began to destroy the racism of our country, but the willingness of black, and white people to stand peacefully in the face of unjust violence.

This can occur without government trying to determine some sort of "fairness" or "morality", it can occur without the Christian participating in the fallen systems, which use violence to achieve their goals.

After re reading your comments, the snark is unnecessary. Maybe I haven't spoken on here much about non violent resistance, but to automatically assume that I'm a "this world is not my home" type, I feel is a bit of a prejudgment. Don't you think? This world is my home, and I try to live my life as a part of the Kingdom of God, anticipating his reign once again, and constantly working towards spreading that Kingdom through my choices of where I live, who I associate with, what I buy, and how I respond to injustice and evil.

Anonymous said...

Unbiased observer here:

I don't see any "snark" in Larry's response, whatsoever. Is that the new rhetorical strategy, feign offense at the way someone words something rather than address the content of their message?

If we want to talk about offensive rhetoric, how about your initial loaded-question, which you've asked before on here. (Ok, I guess I am a little bit of a biased observer.)

Justin said...


I'm not sure how you can read my entire comment, and somehow think that my argument is based on "feigning offense" at anything. If anything, it seems that Larry made that remark in a way to dismiss my opinion, trying to enter the idea into people's minds that my understanding of things is essentially, "to hell with this world, I'm waiting for heaven." That is not what I believe at all, which I would hope is clear from the comment that I would assume you read above.

I don't think my initial question was in the least bit loaded given the context of the post. David Lipscomb and James Harding were very radical in their views of the Kingdom of God, non violent resistance, etc, and I think they'd be asking the same questions that I asked Larry. It is clear to me that Jesus had a very political message, his life was an example of how Christians should live and operate. But, like Lipscomb and Harding, among other more current schools of thought, I believe that our government, just like Rome, is an unjust one, and that trying to achieve the goals of the Kingdom through a power over structure rather than a power under structure is foolish at best, and maybe heretical at the worst. If anyone had the means and the ability to create a government that was completely just, it would have been Jesus. But he didn't. He let the government kill him. And he called us to be willing to do the same. The Cross was a very political statement, and a great example of how we are to respond to injustice in the world. Not by seeking power ourselves, or by directly promoting our ideas to those in power, but to be the hands and feet on the ground, and be able to stand up to the power structure when it is wrong. The essence of the message is a radical one. Power over will not change things. Only the power of Christ will, and the power of Christ is maybe not the most efficient or quick. But its the one that creates a more lasting change. And it is our salvation. I'm not saying what Larry is doing is wrong. I think its what more Christians should be doing. I just believe that his understanding of how people's Christianity should inform their political choices is incorrect. It seems to me, and this is just my perception, that his ideas are one of a more liberal understanding of scripture where Jesus political means are not prescriptive for the church as a whole now, whereas, I believe that His methods are timeless and prescriptive for all generations.

This differences are small, and I still count Larry as my brother, but after reading this post which had a little more theology mixed in, I wonder how he has arrived at the conclusions that he has, especially with the understanding he has about Jesus's methodology.

Anonymous said...

Like I said, I think you read way too much into his words and tried to give him a tone that wasn't there. I don't think he was snarky -- All I'm saying...

Justin said...

I re read his question again at the end. It seems implicit to me in his question that if one doesn't agree with his position, that one must take the position that he suggested, waiting for the "sweet by and by". Maybe snarky wasn't the right word, but its pretty clear to me that that question was not posed to hear what I had to say, but to paint me with a broad brush of what he wishes my opinion would be in order to dismis s my questioning of his logic. If he had merely said, "this is how I understand it, but what approach would you take" I would have not taken offense.

Is it any clearer how I perceive his remarks? I feel like I've been pretty clear, but many times it seems as though I either don't clearly state what I'm saying, or people read my comments with partisan blinders, and refuse to acknowledge any valid points I may have.

Larry James said...

Justin, in responding to comments I often raise issues that aren't intended to relate specifically to the intention of the person to whose comment I am responding. I didn't know, nor did I assume, that your understanding of the Kingdom of God was all about the next life. I simply raised that issue because I encounter lots of that and often some of the same arguments you made in your first comment are made by folks who see things that way. I seldom am trying to be personal in my responses to anyone. Comments simply raise other possibilities to me and I respond. And just for the record, I felt no ill will or "snarkiness" (is that a word???) as I made my comments back to you!

Justin said...

Ok. That's all I was wondering. However, whether you intended it or not, that's how it came off. And yes, snarkiness is a word, at least an internet word. It basically means being a smart alek, but on the internet.

I hope you felt no ill from my comments, I was just trying to understand your position more. It seems the position that you were stating in the post could easily be used to argue against some of the philosophical underpinnings of your theology. Like I said, we're much closer than I think we realize in how we understand the world, the difference, it appears, being that we view Jesus's methods differently. I view it as being prescriptive for all generations, and you don't. That's fine. I just wanted to understand more clearly where you're coming from.

And I still stick by that there might have been a better way to phrase your question to me so as to not come off as condescending, but really who am I to request that of anyone? I have my own issues with wording things in a way that distracts from the message I'm trying to put forth.

Anonymous said...

"The Cross was ... a great example of how we are to respond to injustice in the world. Not by seeking power ourselves, or by directly promoting our ideas to those in power, but to be the hands and feet on the ground, and be able to stand up to the power structure when it is wrong."

To me, Justin, the big (actually enormous) difference between our times and the First Century is that the only way to stand up to Rome was by violence, which Jesus rejected. But we have a peaceful, non-violent way of standing up to oppressive power in the 21st Century - our vote. It's hard for me to imagine that Jesus wouldn't want us to use it. That's how Britain ended the slave trade - by votes, and peacefully. And, yes, when it comes to some issues, like the example of slavery, I'm quite willing to "force" my views on others via the ballot box.

Justin said...

So anon, what is one left with when the vast majority vote into power a government that is evil (and how many have there been that weren't).

I understand what you're saying, but it seems to put hope in democracy rather than in Christ. While we do have a vote, whatever the government chooses to do as a result of that vote is still enforced by violence, whether its the cops rounding up the homeless from their communities and taking them to jail, which is something you and I both disagree with, or whether its forced charity and redistribution of wealth, which we likely disagree about whether that is just or not.

Voting can only take you so far. And just remember, Hitler came to power through popular election. As did many other dictators in recent wester history. Voting is not our salvation, and in my opinion, it shouldn't be our main method by which we attempt to bring the Kingdom of God.

Anonymous said...

Great points, Anon 11:22. Democracy is completely different from the Roman government, we have a non-violent method of promoting justice -- I think it's great.

Justin, I am shocked that you find democracy violent. How is taxation, or enforcement of law violence? I think you will find most people think that argument laughable. Last time I checked, the book of Romans still said that the government was ordained by God to be a justifying factor in the world.

No one here is relying on the government as their salvation. Jesus is still pretty popular on this blog. However, many realize the power that government gives the people to bring equality and justice to those who are suffering -- again not the end all, but it sure seemed pretty important to God -- the way societies treated each other. What we do here on earth (government or not) has serious implications for our salvation.

Last, I can't remember a positive, non-argumentative comment you've had on here that doesn't revolve around the government and a Christian's response. Are you really that simplistic? That everything you care about has to be reduced to this one issue?

Every chance you get, you seem to try to drive a wedge into Larry's posts and reduce his thoughts to a debilitating Christian/government debate. If you really consider Larry your brother, I'd think you would let the issue go, and find other things to discuss, rather than return to the same, tired argument that you bring up every week or two. It gets old, and I'm surprised at Larry's humility and kindness in re-inventing the wheel with you every time. I know I lost patience months ago.

The "anti-snark" anon.

Anonymous said...


Nobody's arguing the perfection of democracy. Paraphrasing Churchill, it's just the least bad form of government when compared to all others. But you use what you have at your disposal to make the world a better place - a little more like The Kingdom. And unlike Jews in Roman times, we have a vote. I have trouble imagining why we wouldn't use it.

Analogizing, let's say in the Middle Ages you had the ear of your country's King. Wouldn't you use whatever influence you had over him to try to make things better? Maybe stop a war, keep a debtor out of prison, etc. Well, with our votes, we all "have the King's ear" in however a small way.

My faith is not in democracy. It's a means, not an end.

Anonymous said...


Just for the record, I think some of the comments posted here have been a little unfair. Larry's original blog was all about politics, power, government, and faith. So, unlike some other commentators on other posts, agree or disagree, at least your comments were on point.

Justin said...

How is democracy violent?

I feel like I shouldn't have to answer that.

All governments are violent. They are violent at the core. The only way that they can enforce their laws is through violence. Next time you get a speeding ticket, try resisting at all and you'll probably get tazed. Or worse.

IRS agents... they only ask you to pay nicely, right?

Do I need to list anything else? If you don't do what the government said, violence will be used on you. Maybe not the first or second or third act of resistance, but violence is how they enforce their decrees.

And thank you anon 707 for the kind words. Its nice to know that a few people can read what I write with an open mind, even if they disagree, and not treat me like a crazy person.

Anonymous said...

So what if a criminal has a gun pulled on me? Can I shoot him? Tackle him? Use violence to subdue him?

Even in your libertarian mindset, force has to be used to protect basic human rights. I hope you're not arguing complete pacifism, because your argument breaks down. How does a government (even a libertarian one) protect basic human rights without violence?

What you really are advocating is a form of anarchy, because it only works if everyone respects the rules. And we know we live in an imperfect society, so therefore, force/violence are inevitable.

And if you want to feel like the open-minded, crazy person that you are, so be it. But don't try and play yourself as a martyr... Just because people have disagreed with you on the same issue over and over, doesn't make you special.

Justin said...

I'm not denying that minarchian libertarianism still requires some amount of force to protect people's basic rights (though there is a strand of libertarianism that could be classified as anarchocapitalism that is against all government, and believes that communities could handle said activities on their own). And while I am a libertarian in theory, I don't think its the only political party you can vote for and be a Christian. I think Jesus example makes it pretty clear that we probably shouldn't participate in the political process at all... because in doing so, more often than not we have to get in bed with evil in order to achieve a small amount of good. And I don't believe that Jesus would have done that, or condoned it.

And onto the violence thing. Apparently you've missed the boat on where most of the social justice christians (especially many in the c of c) have been studying and reading. Maybe you should check out David Lipscomb, James Harding, John Howard Yoder, or for some more current folks, Lee Camp, Stanley Haurwaus, Greg Boyd, Shane Claiborne, etc etc etc. Many of us, (and I'd suspect at least some who read this blog) believe that nonviolent resistance is the way that Christians are to operate. It is the example of Jesus to his followers, and it is the only way to achieve reconciliation and redemption in a situation with an evil party. To quote Martin Luther King: Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

If we can't at least agree here that nonviolence is the way of Christ, then I'm gonna have to jet. There's really no reason for my voice to be here. Supporting violence in an attempt at "justice" is evil, and does nothing but create more violence and oppression. The soviet union tried it. Didn't work out too well for them. You all continue to spread your liberation theology, and I'll continue spreading the kingdom of God.

Anonymous said...

All I'm saying is your violence argument breaks down. You can't argue the extreme, so we're perfectly happy debating a middle ground, but your assumption of what constitutes violence is over-exaggerated.

Actually, I'm on the boat, and sailing nicely.

Enjoy your private jet flight. It's nice to be alone and morally superior to everyone else.

That's the exact moral superiority people find annoying with you, Justin. "You all continue to spread your liberation theology, and I'll continue spreading the kingdom of God."

No one wants to talk with this kind of attitude. We don't care if you think you have all the answers. We know you don't. And we know WE (whoever that is) don't either. But you need to realize that you're ideology is a non-starter here, and continuing to parade it around won't accomplish anything, except leave everyone mad at each other.

And if you want to continue to play the martyr and pass yourself off as the only one doing the work of God, then have a safe flight! We'll see you in heaven some day.

Anonymous said...

"To quote Martin Luther King: Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression."

Yes, Justin, but MLK used nonviolent resistance as a means, not an end. He used it to put a spotlight on the violence underlying segregation in order to get laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed. That is, the end to be achieved was Just legislation, which is exactly what you argue against - all legislation being "violent" to you. MLK advocated a "middle way": use nonviolent resistance, yes, but as a means to change unjust laws. You would apparently disregard the second (and critical) part of his strategy.

Justin said...

He may have, but it remains to be said that true change can only come through a change of heart, and laws don't do that. After the civil war, federal law said that blacks would have equal rights, but we all know that didn't happen until Martin Luther King's movement of nonviolence changed the hearts of the people of this nation.

You have the same situation now as then, with affirmative action laws. The backlash against them is not racist, but its the reaction of people being forced to do something. The law hardens hearts, nonviolent resistance changes hearts.

And I still hold to the fact that Jesus could have created the most just government the world could know, yet he resisted nonviolently, and told his followers to do so as well. Turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give your undergarmet when someone takes your tunic... these aren't just little sayings, but they are normative for those that follow the way of Christ to resist injustice. Trying to overcome them with violence, or even with legislation is not going to fix the problem... it just separates people more. It creates resentment. I think, at the core, people are good. We are all made in the image of our creator... but because there is sin in the world, injustice still reigns. But hearts can and will be changed, when the kingdom comes in full. I believe the mechanism to do so is not to force people to do anything. Jesus didn't force the rich young ruler to give away all he had. In fact, he never forced anyone to do anything, and he didn't teach his followers that either. He taught them to resist injustice with love, and self sacrifice, to be willing to lay down ones life rather than fight to protect it. Violence and force begets violence and force, the pendulum continues swinging. Christians for decades tried to force conversion of muslims in the middle east through conquest. Rather than accomplishing the goals they had set, those experiences created a group of people that are hostile towards the christian faith, and seek revenge for ills perpetrated on their people. The cycle of violence continues.

The peace of Rome was kept in control by force, much the same as the peace of the US is kept by force, around the world and abroad. Is the US government as evil as Rome? Who knows? Both have achieved successes and both have done evil. To quote Tony Campolo, we live in the best Babylon in the world, but its still Babylon. God can use governments, and does, according to Romans 13, but as Romans 12 that precedes it says, we are called to a different set of standards. One that resists evil in a different way. Not through force, but through non violent resistance to evil.

I find it funny that those that criticize me for thinking I have all the answers come off to me as thinking they have all the answers. Anyone who comes to this blog and disagrees with Larry or any one of you anonymouses, is told that their view of the world is unchristian. Maybe not in those terms, but that's the perception, I can promise you. How is promoting a christian left any different than promoting a christian right? The pet ideas are different, one focuses on personal morality and the other on community morality, but to me, its one in the same. That in itself is why my philosophy of governance has a strong libertarian bent, because, were I a non christian, I wouldn't want anyone to force me to do anything because of their morality. I don't think the Kingdom will come in full because we create some sort of Christo-socialist utopia... if it were about that, then Christ would have done it himself. But that can only be achieved through violence, whether its democracy or tyranny. Violence is what props up the state. And as Christians, we shouldn't be about forcing anyone to do anything. We need more prophets who will call upon followers of Christ to stop living in AND of the world, and start living the life of Christ in radical ways. Then, and only then, will the Kingdom come in full, when people, without threat of force, live their lives in accordance to the the gospel of our Lord.

Anonymous said...

I've never said I have all the answers.

What I've said is that you hold a different ideology than most people who frequent this blog, and the fact that you keep reverting the discussion to that ideology does not help the situation.

We're on two different wavelengths. All I'm saying is learn to accept that... And clearly, you refuse to accept this reality, and it's a non-starter every time you try to create this discussion.

Anonymous said...

By the way, we'll see you in two weeks when you decide to bring this issue up again...

Anonymous said...


Do you expect that other driver to stop at the red light and not plow into you? Do you want a fire department to come if your house is on fire? If so, then you want government, with all that entails, including taxes, which are useless unless enforced. Does government necessitate some force? Sure. A law with no consequence for breaking it is useless. But it is measured, moderate force that only comes into play when you've done something that violates a well articulated standard, that is, a just law. (If it's not just, that's a whole separate issue.) I can't imagine Jesus, who said "render unto Ceasar ..." would object to the kinds of laws we have in a democracy. The radical libertarianism you have converted into a theology is, taken to its logical extreme, rather absurd. I, for one, don't want to live in anarchy - which is all you can reasonably call a society in which no force is allowable. I, for one, don't think chaos is what God has in mind as a governing principle.

Larry James said...

Justin, you interpretation of the role and work of Dr. King is a bit "revisionist" at best. I suppose that has to do with your age. King didn't change hearts to the degree you suppose here. Just ask Bull Connor and vast numbers of white racists that wished him dead.

What Dr. King did accomplish was to push President Johnson to get behing the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights act so that Black Americans could take more control over their own lives and destinies. No one would argue that changing hearts is not the best remedy to every problem; but it just doesn't happen and while we wait people who are oppressed and shut out need to be protected and liberated. Thus, the role of law. You may not be able to legislate morality but you can darn sure make people who violate the rights of others, for whatever reason, pay under the rule of law. And for that I am very thankful.

Anonymous said...

Typical of Justin... He's left this conversation, with points unaddressed. And he'll be back in a few weeks to rehash this whole argument again.

The world is cyclical. History repeats itself. The cycle of poverty endures. Justin's desire to bring up the exact same arguments, and then disappear from it every few weeks without resolution. Time marches on in the the great circle we call life.

I think I now understand the importance of the Hindu philosophy of moksha.

Justin said...

Typical of anonymous. Pompous. Arrogant. Assuming. Its easy to be that way when no one knows who you are, correct?

I was under the impression that no one wanted to discuss this anymore. Unlike some, I don't have to have the last word, and come out of a discussion with everything solved. Life's not that simple. And I'm not smart enough to answer all of life's questions.

But thanks for showing Christ to me in this dialogue (if you can call it that).

Anonymous said...

Boys, boys, boys ... tsk, tsk. Surely we can do better than that.