the crucified (nonviolent) God

As Easter comes upon us for another year, and we think about the death and resurrection of Jesus, we must ask, what does this event mean for us here, today?

Atemporal “answers” aside, 2011 has been a year, among other things, of great political turbulence across the globe.

War, uprisings, rebellion, and violence have been a hallmark of human history, but seem to be especially concentrated at this stage of the historical drama (at least as far as we know).

Without naming specific conflicts, what does the death and resurrection of Jesus mean for a world seemingly overflowing with violence?

Let’s take a trip and imagine what it was like on Palm Sunday. Jesus, the one being touted by many as the king of Israel, the Messiah, come to free the nation from Roman imperial domination, begins his ride into Jerusalem.

The mood is electric as people flock to the gates of the city to see this historic event. Has he come to overthrow the corrupt powers, both native and foreign to Israel? How will those powers respond? What will this new king do next?

In a frenzy the people cut palm leaves off the trees and lay them down on the road, an allusion to the nationalistic nostalgia of past militaristic success.* They begin to cry out in loud voices, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” meaning something like, “Save us!”

No prizes for guessing what they wanted to be saved from…

They were ready for the revolution!

All the while Jesus is riding in, nobody seems to take the time to look down about 10 degrees to the vehicle on which he is perched.

A donkey.

Not a war horse, but a freakin’ donkey!

Not the vehicle of violence, but the vehicle of peace.

It would be like Gaddafi riding into Benghazi on float made of white flags when everyone expected him to be in a tank.


A week later the “new king” is dead; crucified as the political rebel the people expected him to be (only they thought he would be, you know, successful). Given the chance to free him they are so disillusioned they instead choose the rebel Barabbas…

Jesus was indeed a figure of disillusionment to anyone who believed that redemptive violence would save them, and still is. He was the one who resisted evil throughout his life, but instructed us to follow him in doing it nonviolently.

ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ – “But I tell you, do not violently resist (antistemi) the one who is evil.” (Matthew 5:39a)

On the cross Jesus demonstrates to the extreme his commitment to nonviolence, as he voluntarily takes the brunt of evil that Israel would experience at the hands of Rome if it did not turn from its current political trajectory. The kingdom of God, after all, is a kingdom of peace…

In the Resurrection Jesus defeats evil, showing that it, with all its violence, is nothing compared to the power of God who will eventually rid the world of evil and fully establish his kingdom of peace.

As we wait for that day, as those called to embody the way of the kingdom now, followers of Jesus must think critically and creatively about the place of violence in our world in light of the cross of Christ.

If violence is, after all, nothing compared to the power of God, why aren’t more Christians willing to trust God and eschew violence and warfare?

Seems that, in light of the cross and Resurrection, Christians who support violence either need to get some imagination, or need to put some trust in God and his power (or both).


*When the Jews rededicated the Temple (164 BCE) they brought palms. When a Jew named Simon reconquered the Jerusalem tower (142 BCE) the Jews took possession of it while carrying palms. Palms appear on Jewish coins at the time of the Bar Kochba Revolt against Rome (132-135 CE).

Posted on April 21, 2011, in Conflict and Nonviolence, New Testament, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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