|RPM, Volume 19, Number 50, December 10 to December 16, 2017|
Jesus is on the move! It's game on. You can just hear it in his rhetoric. Listen, "The time has come," he says. "The time has come for there to be a change in administration, the kingdom of God is near."
And before you can blink an eye, he's out recruiting and mobilizing some would-be-fanatics who are willing to follow where he goes. "Come follow me…" he says. You know this Jesus is up to something. His language is subversive right from the get go here; why else would he use such illusive language as, "And I will make you fishers of men…" Yes, he's up to something very subversive. The time has come, kingdoms will fall, follow me, success is near.
Granted, these are just ordinary men whom he's talking to—Simon and Andrew, as well as James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Meager beginnings, yes, only simple fishermen, but you need to begin somewhere.
If we've heard it once, we've heard it a million times. History is full of would be Messiah's coming to conquer and turn the world upside down.
When that happens, as per usual, the story begins full of hope. Chapter one is full of promise, but, you know how the story always ends. Flip to the back of the book and you often see hopes and dreams snuffed out. Do I need to tell you that the road that Jesus and this band of followers is travelling leads to the cross?
Tony Campolo, in one of his books tells of Jewish tradition. He says that in the ancient Hebraic world, Jesus had what we might call a last name. His full name was Jesus "BAR JOSEPH." The word ""Bar" roughly can be translated as "son of" thus Jesus bar-Joseph was Jesus the son of Joseph, Joseph of Nazareth.
Jesus was a common name in the ancient world, a tribute to Joshua, the patriarch who led the children of Israel into the Promised Land. All over the land, in Jesus bar-Joseph's time, parents named theirs sons after Israel's original deliverer (that's what his name means). Joshua in Hebrew, Jesus in Greek.
According to tradition, says Campolo, there was another boy, or man named Jesus. This other Jesus was the son of a man named RABBAS, thus making his full name Jesus bar-Abbas.
There was a difference between the two, however. It revolved around the way each envisioned the kingdom becoming a reality.
Jesus bar-Abbas apparently believed that the only way it could be done was through military conquest. After all, that's how the Promised Land was established, and there's no doubt David was a warrior king. It was by the sword, he thought, that the kingdom of God would be created. He was sure of that.
The other Jesus came with the awareness that it could not be won by might or power. He took his marching orders from Zechariah 4:6, "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty."
Jesus bar-Abbas took up his energies with a group of zealots who were a group of radical insurgents. These zealots lived in the Judean hills and would sneak out of their caves to raid those they deemed traitors to Israel and on unsuspecting Romans. They were equivalent to modern day terrorists, planning, plotting, looking for ways they could be delivered from the oppressing Roman armies. They were generally viewed as heroes by their people.
While Jesus bar-Abbas and his followers lived in hillside caves and staged their guerrilla attacks, Jesus bar Joseph was himself slowly amassing a following in the remote Galilean countryside. We read of its meager beginning in our passage here today. He went proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand. He said that his kingdom would not be of the world, even though it would be in the world, and that his weapons would not be the weapons of the world.
Both of these Jesuses became famous in the land with Jesus bar Joseph healing the sick, raising the dead and making the blind see—acts of love for a people who longed for God's touch. At the same time, Jesus bar Abbas was motivated by acts of hatred. He used the sword as an instrument of vengeance and power. Blood flowed in his footsteps.
The message of Jesus bar Joseph was indeed revolutionary, a radical leap forward from the teachings of the prophets and the teachers of the land. He went so far as to call people to love their enemies and do good to those who hurt them. He called on people to turn the other cheek, instead of seeking revenge. He taught time and time again a higher law than the law of Moses. A law that penetrated into the hearts and minds of people. Right actions were not enough. Pure motives and thoughts are where it was at for him.
However, this new approach to life was too much for the established social order of the day. It was as if Jesus bar Joseph, rather than attempt to turn the Roman world upside down, was in fact, trying to turn the Jewish tradition upside down. And since both worlds were so intertwined in Judea, both got nervous and saw how dangerous he was. An uneasy détente formed between the Jewish and Roman leaders, because he was a threat. A subversive threat, but a threat nonetheless. And something needed to be done about it.
Well, all this talk about "I will make you fishers of men" is long gone by now. It is years later and Jesus bar Joseph is before Pilate, outside the governor's Roman palace, under arrest, ready for judgement. People are screaming for his death.
Now, I don't want to give the whole story away here. We are here to read chapter one of the book. You really need to read the story for yourself. But if I may… Per chance, as fate would have it, this other Jesus, Jesus bar Abbas, he's under arrest as well. The Romans have got their Osama Bin Laden in their hands. But Pilate has a predicament on his hand. Jesus bar Joseph, he knows, is an innocent man. As much as he likes to talk about this kingdom he is ruling over, he's still an innocent man.
So Pilate, knowing that the custom at Passover (it's Passover time here) is to give his Presidential Pardon to a prisoner, asks the screaming mob which Jesus they want freed. Pilate must have been confident that, given the choice between the two Jesuses, the people would come to their senses and would want Jesus bar Joseph released rather than the terrorist. Surely, an innocent man, full of love and compassion would be released ahead of a blood thirsty zealot with hatred and revenge on his heart. But to Pilate's amazement, when offered the choice between the two would-be deliverers, the crowed cried out, "Give us bar-abbas!" Again and again, they screamed for his release. Bar Abbas was their hero. He was willing to go to war for his people. He took matters into his own hand. He's the stuff of legends.
And that's what Pilate reluctantly did. He frees Barabbas and orders Jesus bar Joseph, who some called "The king of the Jews," to be nailed to a Roman cross.
I really shouldn't have given the story away, but I couldn't help it, because I wonder if Simon and Andrew, James and John, knew what we know. Would they have followed Jesus?
I suspect they thought, in one way or another, that Jesus' call was a call to arms. They wanted to make things happen. They were looking for a "hero" just as much as the next guy.
One of the interesting things about this call of Jesus to follow him is that it is clear that the original followers didn't have the foggiest idea of what they had gotten into when the followed Jesus. In a real sense they followed even before knowing Jesus. From day one, Jesus needed to teach them over and over and over again what his kingdom is about and who he is.
Many years ago, the great Toyohiko Kagawa spoke at Union Seminary in New York. During the Second World War Kagawa worked ceaselessly and daringly to rescue American pilots shot down during bombing raids over Japanese cities. It broke his heart to see the effects of these bombings on his own people, but his Christian commitment led him to love his enemies and to care for those who were injured, frightened and in need. At risk to himself, he visited American pilots stranded in a foreign land, and brought them food and other things of need, things he himself needed to sustain himself.
When he spoke at Union Seminary some years later, his voice was feeble, his words not very prophetic, quite ordinary in fact. One seminarian in the audience leaned over to a friend and commented, "He doesn't seem to be saying much, does he?"
An elderly woman in front of them, heard the comment, turned and sharply said to the two young men, "A man on a cross doesn't have to say anything at all!"
What an incredible insight.
President Ronald Reagan, one year at the National Prayer Breakfast, spoke about a travelling monk, who somehow ended up in Rome and was swept up in a crowd heading toward the great Coliseum. He didn't really know what was going on, but he soon found out. Sitting there with thousands of others he watched as the gladiators came out of their prison hold, stood up before the Caesar, saluted him and said, "We, who are about to die, salute thee!" It was only then that the young monk realized what was going on. They were going to try and kill each other!
He stood up and shouted, "In the name of Jesus, stop!"
No one listened. The crowd was getting louder and louder. Again he shouted, but to no avail.
In desperation he rushed down to the barrier that separated the crowd from the floor of the arena, jumped over the barrier and ran screaming at the gladiators. "In the name of Jesus, stop!"
He got between a couple of them and pleaded with them. Instead of listening, the two gladiators struck him with their swords and he slumped to the ground dead.
An eerie silence fell upon the crowd. Then, one man in the crowd moved forward from his seat. Then another, and another, and another and walked out of the Coliseum. Eventually Caesar himself got out of his seat and left. Little by little it was emptied.
From that day on, there was never another gladiator fight in the Roman Empire. A social system, a way of life, was changed, not through might, nor by power, but through an act of sacrificial love.
I wonder if the disciples knew what was in store when Jesus asked them to follow. Amen.
Our Father in heaven, may your kingdom come. Your kingdom is so much different than we envision. Our kingdoms are full of conquest and getting even, and trampling on the weak, and looking out for ourselves, that the idea of a kingdom of love, and sacrifice, and of giving one's life to others doesn't make sense. Open our eyes to the glorious kingdom that is so near. Use the person and the work of Jesus to remove the scales of blindness. Reveal to us the real world, where it is not by might, nor power, but by your Spirit. We pray this in Jesus name. Amen.
|This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor. If you would like to discuss this article in our online community, please visit the RPM Forum.|
Subscribe to RPMRPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. Click here to subscribe.