Jesus — passivist or a peacenik?
I’ve been reading the “sermon on the mount” and I’ve got many questions and few answers, but it feels good to finally be asking the questions. When I was a pastor I just spouted the party line and that prevented me from honestly interacting with Jesus. Now that I’m officially a “huge fuck up” I can dare to ask the questions I didn’t ask before… If I’m a doubter (probably am), I’m the Thomas kind of doubter. There is a seed of faith inside of me wanting to sprout into something real. But it has to be real, no more bullshit…
When Jesus began his ministry his first focused teaching to his followers was about the Kingdom of Heaven. I’m not sure what he meant by “kingdom of heaven, but here’s a bit of what he said:
“God blesses those who are poor in spirit,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
Matt 5:3–10: (New Living Translation)
What is Jesus saying? Is he just encouraging the downtrodden? If Jesus is just encouraging the downtrodden with some pie in the sky promise about the kingdom of heaven — then I’m not impressed. Is he saying “I know life is shit storm now, but don’t worry the Kingdom of Heaven will make you forget all of this”? Is he saying “I know you’re poor, your life is full of sorrow, you are oppressed and there is no justice to be found in this life, you might be persecuted and robbed, even killed, but that’s okay — cuz in heaven you’ll have a reward”? Is that what this is all about? I don’t think so.
I think Jesus is calling his followers to join a revolution. During the Vietnam war some of those against the war were called “passivists”. The word is unfortunate and inaccurate, because those who bore the label aggressively organized, protested, sat in, were arrested, got out, repeated… They were anything BUT passive. Some people derisively labeled them “Peaceniks”, which is a better label, because they were actively aggressively promoting peace.
I hear in Jesus’ words a call to arms, a call to action, aggressive, peaceful, dangerous, revolutionary action. He is calling people to a Shalom revolution. The word peace “shalom” didn’t mean the absence of conflict or unrest, but rather “wholeness”, a state where things and relationships were in alignment with the Creator and each other — hardly the situation we face now — but Jesus wants his followers to actively aggressively pursue an agenda that leads towards this Shalom.
Jesus wasn’t crucified for comforting the afflicted and the oppressed, he was crucified because his kingdom ideas threatened the powers that be.
He called people to a life of revolutionary living that would be at odds with the status quo. This life of service: humble, painful, merciful service to others in the name of Jesus was a threat to the establishment. I think that in this first talk Jesus is prepping his followers to go out and serve the poor, the downtrodden, the mourners, those who suffer injustice, who need mercy, who are mired in conflict. As they enter the arena the powers that be will hate them, despise them, oppose them, persecute them and kill them. But that’s okay because “the kingdom of heaven is theirs”.
I still don’t have a clue as to what this “Kingdom of Heaven” is. I‘m not going to worry about that right now. I think Jesus wants me to focus on becoming the kind of person described by his words: poor in spirit, pure in heart — someone who hungers and thirsts for justice, not just for myself but for others, who shows mercy to others, who works for peace, and gets the shit kicked out me for doing so. Not sure I’m totally on board with that either, but it seems like it would be better than getting the shit kicked out of me for doing evil, and hurting others.
Jesus seems to be calling for a revolution that begins in the soul, the inner man and travels outward into every relationship.
Dang it! This is why I stopped reading the Bible — it always kicks my ass.