A peace, not the peace

A bit from my dissertation writing this last week:

As a religious conflict between Jesus and religious leaders who did not have political power, the struggle discussed above was primarily a battle of wills—who really did have the authority to speak for God? This led to fierce opposition against Jesus, but was not the direct reason for his crucifixion. Jesus was not stoned, as a blasphemer would merit. Rather, his crucifixion was an act of the controlling legal authority of the time: the Roman Empire. Jesus was seen as someone who if not entirely himself a rebel at least contributed to fomenting societal disorder, and so could be blamed as a social agitator.

The teaching of Jesus clearly had societal implications and someone with his charisma and influence, along with his implicit assertions of being the Messiah, resonated with those who sought a renewed Kingdom of Israel in contrast to the ruling Romans. Rome did not concern itself with the religious debates Jesus had sparked but only sought to squelch potential uprisings, a potential that was, in Palestine, expressed through such Messianic pretenders.

The active opposition of the Jewish social leaders, like the Sadducees, and threats to social disorder caused Rome to take notice, and in taking notice take the path of least resistance in order to pursue what they asserted was their primary goal, that of peace. Rome ruled diverse lands by a combination of offering unique benefits and contrasting this with vicious reprisal. Those it could not sate it crushed.

Jesus did not, however, see Rome’s response as defeat, nor as true peace. In willingly submitting himself, he disputed ultimate Roman authority over him. Rome sentenced Jesus to death. Jesus refused to stay dead. An act of ultimate rebellion. In this he contrasted himself with Rome’s authority, and contrasted his teaching with Rome’s policies.

His way was a way of deeper peace, not through active rebellion but substantive refutation of Rome’s very ability to assert itself. His goal was much more than temporary forms of apparent peace through domination. He sought peace by uniting with those who had been left out of peace, who had suffered at the hands of peace-making, who had been sacrificed to maintain the peace-wielding power of others. Pax Romana thus came about through application of crucifixion. Pax Christi comes about through the reception of crucifixion.

Rome put people on the cross to bear the weight of the peace. Jesus, and those who follow him, face the cross for themselves, obligating themselves to a new way of being, not obligating others to suffer so that our life is more bearable.

This political reality did not only involve Rome. There were also the political aspirations of those who opposed Rome involved in the story of the cross. As it contained such social and political elements, the teaching of Jesus would have resonated with the Zealots, those Jewish men and women who actively sought political and social liberation.

Whereas the Pharisees sought religious reformation, the right orientation towards God in spiritual and religious matters, the Zealots sought the activism of God, the assertion of the right to rule and have political freedom, to throw off the yoke of their oppressors, a political zeal for liberation. “Like the zealots,” Moltmann writes, “Jesus broke with the status quo and those who maintained it into being.”

Just as the similarities of Jesus with the Pharisees brought both their initial acclaim and later their reprobation, so too did the similarities of Jesus with the Zealots awaken them to his possibilities as a leader but then infuriate them as he did not follow through with their political demands. Jesus was the friend of sinners—which alienated the Pharisees—and friend of tax collectors—which alienated zealots. When Pilate sought a way out of his predicament and offered to release a prisoner, the people chose Barabbas rather than Jesus, making a claim for who they felt was the more valuable.

Jesus was neither a good citizen of Rome nor a good citizen of Israel, he rebelled against both assertions of power in his resistance to domination and in his proffering an alternative kingdom. He was not the Messiah Rome could fear and so he was not the Messiah the zealots wanted.

From right and from left, from the two forces of political assertions of his time, Jesus was rejected—neither liberal nor conservative we might say enough and so spewed from both their favor. His favor was not what he sought, nor their definitions the way he defined his own identity. Those who insist on defining themselves through the path of zealot or Pharisee do so in contrast to the way of the cross, which is why such paths are alienating and competitive, establishing an “us versus them mentality”. Such forms of expression must, then, often be discerned by their divisiveness rather than by their rhetoric, which will often attempt to claim Jesus as their justification.

Both forms justify oppression either by themselves or by others as a way of pursuing a peace, a peace they say represents Christ but more often than not actually represents oppression. It is a justification of oppression that disguises itself through selective use of the message of Jesus and of those prophets who came before him.

Pax Romana is limited to some, and often restricts or opposes others. Pax Christi is for all, together. If peace insists that others bear the weight for such peace, and suffer under it, that is the peace of Rome.

This entry was posted in academia, dissertation musings, Jesus. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A peace, not the peace

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *