God’s Non-Violent Revolutionary

Was Jesus a social revolutionary? In the ordinary sense in which we use the phrase “social revolutionary,” yes. Like the Jewish prophets before him, he was passionate about economic justice and peace, and advocated active non-violent resistance to the domination system of his time. He was a voice of peasant social protest against the economic inequity and violence of the imperial domination system, mediated in the Jewish homeland by client rulers of the Roman Empire – in Galilee, Herod Antipas, and in Judea and Jerusalem, the temple authorities. He spoke of God’s kingdom on earth, as the Lord’s Prayer puts it: Your kingdom come on earth, as it already is in heaven. Heaven is not the problem – earth is.

But he was not a secular social revolutionary. He was God’s revolutionary. And God’s passion – what God is passionate about, according to Jesus – is for an earth in which swords are beaten into plowshares, in which nations do not make war against nations anymore, in which every family shall live under their own vine and fig tree (not just subsistence, but more than subsistence), and no one shall make the afraid (Micah 4.1-4, with close parallel in Isaiah 2.1-4). This was the passion of Jesus, and for Christians, Jesus is the revelation of God’s passion.

Violent revolution? No. Non-violent revolution? Yes.

Of course, Jesus and the Bible are also personal as well as political. Of course. But we have not often seen the political meaning of Jesus and the Bible. It is there – and once one sees it, it is so obvious. Not to see it is the product of habituated patterns of thought, or of willful blindness.

Jesus was (and is) not about endorsing the rule of domination systems that privilege the wealthy and powerful. Jesus was (and is) about God’s passion for a very different kind of world.

Originally posted on The Washington Post website.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. We very much enjoyed your lecture at Franklin College in Indiana on 2-17-2011. Will continue to follow your wisdom as long as you offer it. Thanks be to God for your passion and life’s work.

  2. As far as this goes, I really agree, though you attribute Isaiah’s words to Jesus. I might add that it is not merely conservatives who miss the revolutionary call in Jesus’s life and teaching, it is liberals as well. How else could one espouse non-violence on the one hand and fail to perceive the violence inherent in abortion? We are all blind in one way or another, we all betray our support of one establishment or another.

  3. Carroll’s comments are spot on. Abortion is wrong. And so is war. It’s too bad these views can’t be reconciled into one movement of peace.

  4. Eugene Steficek

    Agreed with Carroll. Jesus movement of peace and reconciliation is often clouded by both conservatives and liberals alike. Jesus was not attached to either of these labels, but was profoundly attached to God. Which shatters all walls and labels.

  5. Bill McCracken

    When it comes to Jesus, while I would like nothing more than to believe that he was non-violent, the scriptures simply are not monolithic on this subject. Jesus teaches a parable where the king’s enemies are slayed before him. And the book of Revelation, sadly, paints a picture of Jesus that is very violent, a sword coming out of his mouth, his robe dipped in blood, making war as God’s holy jihad worrior. His enemies are consumed with fire and the book closes with people being thrown alive into hell to burn forevermore. If this isn’t the epitome of violence, I don’t know what is.

    I wish I could, in good conscience, take Thomas Jefferson’s approach and simply cut away the images of a violent Jesus (and God) in the scriptures. But to do some seems dishonest. So while I appreciate some of the images of Jesus being non-violent, I can’t agree, based upon the scriptures, that all of the Bible portrays Jesus as the Prince of Peace.

  6. I think you make a good point about the Bible portraying Jesus as sometimes being violent. What I mean by Jesus being non-violent is His teaching on how we are to live. Violence may or may not be necessary, it may or may not be appropriate, in the face of evil, but it is only safe and appropriate and just when it is God Himself who is the violent one. He only is so purely and perfectly good and just enough to use violence in a just way. For us sinners, there is just no way that we can be trusted with violence. I am perfectly content to let God alone choose wisely and justly when violence is right, and to trust Him to use it for good. But let me not fall into the hands of men, and let them not fall into my hands.

  7. If we go through the holy books with a fine tooth comb we can find them full of contradictions. However, we must not forget that we are dealing with esoteric books and that to understand them correctly we must have knowledge of what stands behind the symbols, not take everything literally. Humanity should take one simple commandment to heart: “do unto others as you would want them to do unto you” – that’s easy to understand and goes way beyond politics; we would then also stop judging others based on our own current standards.

  8. And where does the knowledge of what stands behind the symbols come from? From within? Then we are putting ourselves behind the symbols and we are worse off than having nothing there. Self deception is too too easy, and the more intelligent one is the more susceptible to it we become. I would point out that there was a more important commandment that came before the one simple commandment you mention.

  9. I disagree that Jesus was ever depicted as violent in his earthly life. The Book of Revelation was a vision of John’s. It wasn’t a historical account of what Jesus did. To me (just my interpretation) it is John’s vision of how Jesus would deal with the evil in the world in general. Maybe I’m misunderstanding it. But I don’t get that from Jesus.

  10. When I think of Jesus being depicted I think of Him clearing the Temple with the whip. It is a limited form of violence, of course, but some. As to the book of Revelation, I can’t say anything except I do not feel that I understand it clearly. I guess the point might be taken that there is no permanent place in the universe for evil.

  11. “And the book of Revelation, sadly, paints a picture of Jesus that is very violent, a sword coming out of his mouth, his robe dipped in blood, making war as God’s holy jihad worrior. His enemies are consumed with fire and the book closes with people being thrown alive into hell to burn forevermore. If this isn’t the epitome of violence, I don’t know what is.”

    Wheat and tares. Sheep and goats. Problematic if you associate the tares and the goats with whole persons, because that militates against the sacred worth of persons.

    That confused me too, until I realized that the wheat and tares, sheep and goats are within every person. So the divine makes war on the evil and imperfect within us, consumes his enemies (our evil traits). This is no different from hating the sin and loving the sinner, which Jesus exemplified so well. That is why the Catholic concept of purgatory makes infinite more sense than the Protestant concept of hell – or the Protestant concept of heaven where one goes automatically if one recited a magic formula while alive, to wit: I accept Jesus’ death as full payment for my sins, and I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Personal Savior.

  12. If you look closely at the book of Romans you can see clearly that Saint Paul absolutely establishes the need for the Atonement! The Gospel of eternal Salvation and Atonement is declared, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to be the Good News of the entire Bible– it is unmistakeable to me! The Atonement is not the retribution of an angry god in hate upon his helpless son but the infinite agape love of our Heavenly Father giving His only Son for mankind in desperate need! As a human parent would you not die for your helpless child?? The At-one-ment of Love Divine is the unmistakeable theme of all eternity!!

  13. Dr. Borg’s insights continue to inspire me.