Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


April 3, 2012

LION AND THE LAMB: An elephant in the room

CROSSVILLE — This week many people around the world are thinking about various events in the last week of Jesus' life on earth. Not all, however, will be doing much pondering about the political context of these events. The main "elephant in the room" during Jesus' last week, the chief opposition he encountered in Jerusalem, was not from the Jewish colonial power structure but from the Roman Empire itself.

The divide was starkly dramatized in the two processions into Jerusalem on the original Palm Sunday, as described by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. Each year at the beginning of the Passover celebration Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, would enter Jerusalem through the West Gate at the head of a procession of imperial soldiers on horses. The purpose was to protect the Roman Empire against any Jewish uprising during the Passover celebration.

On this particular occasion Jesus engaged in some street theater against Pilate and the Empire. He entered Jerusalem through the East Gate on a lowly donkey, and was greeted by many people hoping for freedom and salvation from the hated Romans.

The next day Jesus led a demonstration in the Courtyard of the Temple, briefly occupying it and overturning the tables of the moneychangers who were involved in the Jewish sacrificial system. The Temple was in reality the chief center of national alignment and cooperation between the Jewish religious hierarchy and the Roman colonial leaders. In fact, the Roman governor was instrumental in choosing the chief priests.

If prayer breakfasts incorporating the religious and political leadership elements had been the custom in that day, Jesus might have also targeted those. Or if he had been familiar with an Occupation movement in his day, he might have organized a longer one for the Temple Courtyard.

As it was, the authorities began making plans to deal with Jesus and bring him to trial. They knew it was too dangerous to try to arrest him in public, surrounded by a supportive group of people. So with the help of an informer, they were able to accomplish this when Jesus and his disciples were alone one evening in the Garden of Gethsemane.

After being convicted by the Jewish and Roman authorities, Jesus was put to death in the customary way for rebels in the Roman Empire, by hanging on a cross until dead, as an intimidating message to others. Today this would be called a judicial lynching.

An interesting footnote to this event can be found in Mark 15:39 where a Roman centurion who observed the crucifixion was heard to say "Truly this man was God's Son!" For Roman citizens, "Son of God" was a title belonging to the emperor, and it was highly subversive to call any rebel by that name.

Walter Wink has referred to this imperial system of Caesar, his client King Herod Antipas, and the high priests in Jerusalem, as a "domination order": a "society of unjust economic conditions, oppressive political relations, biased race relations, patriarchal gender relations, hierarchical power relations, and the use of violence to maintain them all." Doesn't it seem strange for people today to call Jesus' crucifixion by such an evil system as God's will, especially on behalf of our salvation?

The character of God was compassion and justice. In Walter Wink's words, "Where is God's reign? Wherever domination is overcome, people freed, the soul fed, God's reality is known. When is God's reign? Whenever people turn from the idols of power and wealth and fame to the governance of God in a society of equals. What is God's reign? It is the transformation of the Domination System into a nonviolent, humane, ecologically sustainable, livable environment fashioned to enable people to grow and grow well."

Is there an elephant in our nation's room today?

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