Creating exemptions for the Sermon on the Mount and explaining when and where Jesus’s teaching does not apply is fine (in theory, I suppose); but at some point you have to decide what Jesus DID mean with his kingdom imperatives on nonviolence and enemy love. Which is to say, we eventually have to ask ourselves what DID Jesus intend and when DO we need to turn the other cheek? If our default response to this portion of the Sermon on the Mount is to craft exemptions, we might give the impression that we really don’t believe in Jesus’s ideas of nonviolent resistance to enemy love AT ALL.
The resurrection of Jesus is not to be understood in good liberal fashion as a spiritual development in the church. Nor should it be too quickly handled as an oddity in the history of God or as an isolated act of God’s power. Rather, it is the ultimate act of prophetic energizing in which a new history is initiated. It is a new history open to all but peculiarly received by the marginal victims of the old order.
The crucifixion of Jesus is not to be understood simply in good liberal fashion as the sacrifice of a noble man, nor should we too quickly assign a cultic, priestly theory of atonement to the event. Rather, we might see in the crucifixion of Jesus the ultimate act of prophetic criticism in which Jesus announces the end of a world of death (the same announcement as that of Jeremiah) and takes that death into his own person. Therefore we say that the ultimate criticism is that God himself embraces the death that his people must die.
Every year when Lent rolls around, I tell myself that I really want to do something different this year for Lent/Holy Week/Good Friday/Easter Sunday. I internally say that I want to have a little more focus, maybe use the daily lectionary, maybe pray a little more, maybe do something to better understand what the atonement is and what Resurrection means and how it fits in this life of mine.
And then, you know. Work, kids, TV shows, new music, grass mowing, herb gardening, reading, visiting family, coffee roasting, and on and on.
None of it is bad. I actually AM trying to find ways to enjoy and just be in these daily and weekly rituals. This time with my girls and my wife that I will never get back if I keep checking my phone for Facebook and Twitter updates. Mowing the lawn is a lot more fun now that I’m an adult (Chris from ten years ago would look at me with such disdain).
So I can look back at this past couple of months that I gave up Twitter for (most of) Lent – only to replace it with constant Facebook checking – and be disappointed in myself. I can look back and be frustrated that I didn’t spend time in prayer nearly as much as I wanted to.
I can be satisfied. Content. Happy that I actually do have a fulfilling life. I can use this next few days to reflect on my failings and faults and successes over the last few months and change something about myself, about how I see the world and parenting and being a husband and a Jesus follower.
Is that the point of all this? To try and fail but try to not be discouraged but see where I can do better and see how the Spirit might be working in me and in the people around me that I love so dearly? I think so.
Maybe this Easter Sunday won’t feel special in any real way. Our family will go to church, hopefully have some time to reflect, both on what the Crucifixion might mean and what the Resurrection pulls us toward. We will do so while one of us bounces a five-month-old so she isn’t fussy and we both worry about how our two-year-old is doing in her little classroom. We’ll leave church and eat ham and play in our new backyard and maybe, even if for only a moment, we will experience a taste of the Kingdom of Heaven in our seemingly mundane lives.
Around minute 53, Hardin makes a really great point. During the original Holy Week, Jesus is seen as the “lamb that takes away the sin of the world.” The thing is, in Judaism, Yom Kippur is seen as the day when the people received atonement for sin (not Passover), and there is never a time when a lamb takes away sin – it’s always two goats.
So in becoming the lamb that takes away the world’s sin, Jesus changes the way we view sacrifice, and how atonement works. Instead of a reinforcement of the old system of sacrifice, where we need a scapegoat to take our blame, Jesus takes on humanity’s violence and retribution, and offers peace and forgiveness in return.
This is the beauty of atonement in Christianity – not that God is vengeful and needs to settle the cosmic score (so to speak), but that God takes on our need for retributive violence and says “No more.”
There is nothing in the Gospels to suggest that God causes the mob to come together against Jesus. Violent contagion is enough. Those responsible for the Passion are the human participants themselves, incapable of resisting the violent contagion that affects them all when a mimetic snowballing comes within their range, or rather when they come within the range of this snowballing and are swept along by it. We don’t have to invoke the supernatural to explicate this.
When Jesus declares that he does not abolish the Law but fulfills it, he articulates a logical consequence of his teaching. The goal of the Law is peace among humankind. Jesus never scorns the Law, even when it takes the form of prohibitions… The disadvantage of prohibitions however, is that they don’t finally play their role in a satisfying manner. Their primarily negative character, as St. Paul well understood, inevitably provokes in us the mimetic urge to transgress them. The best way of preventing violence does not consist in forbidding objects, or even rivalistic desire… but in offering to people the model that will protect them from mimetic rivalries rather than involving them in these rivalries.
In Christ we see God – not in a filtered theophany – but in the form of human flesh! Jesus is the final word on God. God is like Jesus. God has always been like Jesus. There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus. We have not always known this, but now we do.
For man seeks God in the law, and attempts to conform to him through the works of the law, in order to bring himself into the righteousness of God. If he sees and believes in God in the person of Christ, condemned by the law, he is set free from the legalist concern to justify himself. Man seeks God in the will for political power and world domination. If he sees and believes God in Christ who was powerless and crucified, he is set free from this desire to have power and domination over others. Man seeks to know God in the works and ordinances of the cosmos or the course of world history, in order to become divine himself through knowledge. If he sees and believes God in the suffering and dying Christ, he is set free from the concern for self-deification which guides him towards knowledge. Thus the knowledge of God in the crucified Christ takes seriously the situation of man in pursuit of his own interests, man who in reality is inhuman, because he is under the compulsion for self-justification, dominating self-assertion, and illusionary self-deification.
Who, after all, was it who didn’t want the dead to be raised? Not simply the intellectually timid or the rationalists. It was, and is, those in power, the social and intellectual tyrants and bullies; the Caesars who would be threatened by a Lord of the world how had defeated the tyrant’s last weapon, death itself… And this is the point where believing in the resurrection of Jesus suddenly ceases to be a matter of inquiring about an odd event in the first century and becomes a matter of rediscovering hope in the twenty-first century.