Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Political Challenge

Tuesday, February 5, 2008 -- Week of Last Epiphany, Year 2
(The Martyrs of Japan)

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 951)
Psalms 26, 28 (morning) 36, 39 (evening)
Proverbs 30:1-4, 24-33
Philippians 3:1-11
John 18:28-38

Note: I copied today's reading from Philippians into yesterday's reading. Yesterday should have been Philippians 2:1-13.

We enter the political world of Jerusalem during the rule of Pontius Pilate (26-36 CE). The Jewish authorities bring Jesus to Pilate, desiring his execution. According to John's account, Pilate sees this as a religious charge and refuses initially. The response that the indigenous authorities are not allowed to exercise the death penalty is a reminder that this is an occupied country under Rome's authority.

Pilate's interest is strictly political: "Are you the King of the Jews?" Rome allowed no challengers, no king but Caesar. In essence, Jesus admits the charge, redefining the terms in John's Gospel, and in rather Johannine language.

Jesus characteristically used political language. He regularly spoke of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is what life would be like if God reigned supreme. The underlying implication is that in the Kingdom of God, Caesar would not reign supreme. This is language of political sedition and rebellion, guaranteed to attract ominous attention from Roman authorities.

Jesus did not choose to use less political language, less controversial metaphors such as Community of God, Family of God or Religion of God. Instead, he proclaimed an alternative kingdom: the Kingdom of God. That is a political proclamation. Pilate crucified him for political sedition. The official sign over the cross announced the sentence: "The King of the Jews." Nobody is king but Caesar.

The early church's message and was intentionally created to announce a new alternative world order, an alternative to the reign and civic cult of Caesar. The titles accorded to Jesus were titles of Caesar: "Lord" and "Son of God." These are the titles that appear on coinage and on public buildings praising Caesar. To say "Jesus is Lord," the first Christian confession of faith, is to say Caesar is not. It was an act of treason, punishable by death.

Many commentators believe that the authors of the gospels, writing forty years and more after the crucifixion, took pains to shift the focus of the accusations against Jesus away from Pilate (and Rome) more toward the religious Jewish authorities of Jerusalem. They may have been trying to minimize the offense toward Rome as a way of reducing the pressure of persecution. There has been a tension between the political challenge that is inherent in the message of Jesus and the temptation to avoid temporal conflict by spiritualizing his message.

But it is clear that our religion has its roots in a political execution and gains much of its identity as an alternative social and political world view. Jesus proclaimed an alternative political authority. Jesus was executed as an enemy of the state. Modern Christians who are uncomfortable bringing politics into the church are simply ignoring our origins. It's always been political.



Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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