August 31, 2007


Icon painted by La Cabra.

A while back, El Cabrero received a challenge from a Goat Rope reader to write about five things I most admire about Jesus. It took me a while to rise to that challenge. This is day five. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries.

A note on method: I'm confining my remarks to events that happened during Jesus' natural life, although I believe there was and is more to the story...

This last post is about the last days of his natural life.

If Jesus had decided to say in Galilee and confine his activities to peasants in rural villages, he would probably have had a much longer life. But, as one of the gospels puts it, "he set his face to go to Jerusalem:"

Yet I must continue on my way today, tomorrow, and the following day, for it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem.

I don't pretend to know what his thoughts were when he made that decision--I'm not even sure what mine are most days. But whether you look at it as a religious or purely historical question, it seems clear that he knew that going there in the way he did and acting as he did would provoke the ruling elites of his day, both Roman and Jewish, to retaliate. And he knew that this retaliation was often drastic.

The Domination System of his time, to use the words of theologian Walter Wink, did not take kindly to challenges. Come to think of it, the Domination System of our time isn't too crazy about them either. And the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed and enacted (see the post "The World Turned Upside Down "earlier this week) was nothing if not a challenge to the domination system.

The timing of the last Jerusalem trip was critical also. It was the festival of Passover, which was kind of like Christmas, Easter and Independence Day all rolled into one. The feast had political and subversive implications: it celebrated the liberation of the children of Israel from slavery and bondage in Egypt. The Romans were on high alert and Jerusalem was heavily garrisoned with soldiers.

Aside from many verbal confrontations with opponents that last week, Jesus engaged in two explicit acts which would have been seen as provocative. The first was his entry into Jerusalem, celebrated now as Palm Sunday. As Marcus Borg puts it,

Jesus' action was based on a passage from the prophets that spoke of a humble king who would enter Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey. He would be a king of peace who would banish chariots, warhorses, and battle bows from the land and command peace to the nations (Zech. 9:9-10). By riding into Jerusalem on a young donkey, Jesus enacted his message: the kingdom of God of which he spoke was a kingdom of peace, not violence.

The meaning of Jesus' mode of entry is amplified by the realization that two processions entered Jerusalem that Passover. The other procession was an imperial one. On or about the same day, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate rode into the city from the opposite side, the west, at the head of a very different kind of procession: imperial cavalry and foot soldiers arriving to reinforce the garrison at the Temple Mount...

The next day, Jesus created a disruption at the Temple, traditionally called its "cleansing," when the gospels say he overturned tables and drove out money changers. At the very least, this indicates that he viewed the Temple system as an unjust one that fed upon the poorest of the faithful.

It didn't take that much in those days to bring down the wrath of the ruling powers and this was more than enough...

Each of the gospels contains slightly different versions of the trial of Jesus. A very likely scenario, however, is pretty simple: there were standing orders to crush any disruption or display of resistance.

The punishment meted out to Jesus is telling. Crucifixion in the ancient Roman world was a punishment aimed mostly at rebellious slaves and those who threatened the legitimacy of the ruling order. And, to his eternal credit, Jesus really was and is a threat to the domination system of his and of every era.

Crucifixion at that time was as much spectacle as punishment, a prime example of the theater of empire and cruelty. Crucifixions took place in public places, on highways, prominent hillsides, or at heavily traveled crossroads. The message was simple: cross the empire and you die this way.

Many victims of this punishment were never even properly buried; instead, their bodies remained tied to the cross long after death as an example to others why might try to challenge the social order. This was, in the minds of many, a punishment worse than death.

What happened after the crucifixion of Jesus is beyond the scope of this post. Everyone must choose his or her own interpretation. My own best answer is to echo what was told to the disciples in the gospels when they came to anoint Jesus' body on the Sunday morning after his death: "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here. He has gone before you..."


HEALTH CARE CRISIS. This Charleston Gazette op-ed from John Sweeney and Kenney Perdue of the national and state AFLCIO, respectively, is about the need to expand health coverage to more Americans.

SUFFER THE CHILDREN, AGAIN. From the same source, here's a good op-ed by Renate Pore about the Childrens Health Insurance Program (CHIP).


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