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Refections on the Gospel, Week before November 24, 2013


Luke 23: 33-43

33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

What I am Learning:

Rambo Jesus hears the taunt from the soldiers. His head and eyes rise from the ground to look at the sky. The camera picks up the light in his eyes which smolder with anger and rage. He looks without fear at the soldiers. To their great surprise, he begins to strain against the nails, his mighty biceps and pectoral muscles straining, sweat dripping from his face. He pulls out the first nail, then the second. Somehow he gets his legs free. The soldiers run forward, swords and spears ready to hack him to death. But Rambo Jesus ducks under their jab, and with a reverse pivot elbows one of them in the throat and takes the sword.

Once he has a sword, it’s all over. Peter and the other disciples pull out their swords. Even Mary the mother of Jesus pulls out a frying pan and knocks a Roman Soldier on the head to save Jesus from a rear attack, and of course, for a moment of humor and to show the ladies can “represent.”

Isaiah 63 is fulfilled as the place of the skull runs red with Roman blood.

The Jewish people hear the story and come to join his army. Within a year, Rambo Jesus is sitting on Caesar’s throne, now placed in Jerusalem. Soon the armies will be going out to bring new lands under the control of Rambo Jesus, to bring peace at the tip of a sword.

We have seen this movie before. This is the basic plot of most of the movies that we produce. Our culture seems to like it. But Jesus didn’t come down from the cross in a blaze of power. Rambo Jesus died on the cross.

But that is not the only thing that died on the cross.

By the end of the first century, many Christians felt that Jesus was not only sent from God, but that he was God become a human. I feel that many Christians today almost totally miss the point of this.

The point of this is that what we see in Jesus is true of God. These early Christians believed that what Jesus did God always does:

  • God enters into the pain and despair and oppression of human individuals and human communities and brings new life and a new way for humans to live with each other.
  • God becomes vulnerable with us and to our violence and reveals God’s nonviolent engagement of our violence toward each other.
  • God seeks to reorder society so that all have their basic needs met.
  • God seeks to change us and our society by having “power with” and not by having “power over.”

In short, in Jesus not only did Rambo Jesus die, but our Rambo God died.

Another more theological way to say this:  The God of power and privilege is dead.

God raised Jesus from the dead to vindicate him and to claim that Jesus acted just as God would.

But of course we keep trying to raise the God of power and privilege from the dead.

Many Christians assume an “Anselmian theory of atonement.” In this theory, God needed Jesus to suffer to pay God back for all the disobedience of human beings. The torture and death of Jesus somehow puts the heavenly books in order, and allows God to forgive human beings and allow them into heaven when we die – if we submit to Jesus now. This theology says that God needs violence against Jesus, that violence is sacred. That violence saves.

The cross for these Christians is a dirty job that Jesus had to do.

Through this convoluted story, among others, Christians raise Rambo Jesus from the dead. Now that this job is done God can now rule in power. One day, they say, Rambo Jesus will return and will kill all God’s enemies and throw them to hell

Then they say to us, “You don’t want to be an enemy of Jesus do you?” We often gulp a little when they say this–the same way we gulped when a bully was trying to intimidate us.

But then the scripture becomes clear as we read, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The God of power and privilege and Rambo Jesus died for Jesus long before he was tortured and killed by the Roman Empire on skull hill. For Jesus, it was never about power over others, but about building power with them. It was always about power with people:

  • When he made a woman an official disciple
  • When he conversed with and honored gentiles
  • When he called us to love our enemies
  • When he called for resistance to being dominated by others by turning our cheek
  • When he resisted winning by the methods of the empire
  • When he taught that leadership was not a competition for power but a form of service
  • When he refused to be daunted by the power of Pilate
  • When he forgave his enemies as they killed him

As much as we try to resurrect the God of power over others and his son Rambo Jesus, in the end that is not what Christianity gives us.

It offers a God who is vulnerable with and to us, and who calls us to join in a “power with” community as God brings healing and creation to the world — a community that trusts as Jesus did, that this healing and creation will not leave us wounded and dead, but make us whole and alive as it did for Jesus.

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