Grace and peace be yours from God our Sovereign
, and from our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ, and from the Holy Spirit. Amen
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death —
even death on a cross.
9Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This verse has long been recognized as a hymn, with the idea that it was composed by early Christians as praise Jesus. More recent scholarship has suggested that this was an Encomium, a common form of praise of famous men. It would be used to sing the praises of emperors who “though found in human form, did indeed aspire to be like God’s.” This passage then can be seen as a rebuttal of Caesar’s pretensions of greatness. This encomium, shows Jesus as the truly human one, whom God exalted after death by raising him from the dead and giving him a name above all names. This would amount to a treasonous affirmation of Jesus as Lord and Christ and not Caesar.
Let that percolate a bit. Here we have one who may have been the world’s richest and most powerful (Caesar) side by side, with one of the world’s poorest and weakest (Jesus), whom Caesar had publicly crucified as a criminal and terrorist to the state system. And it is Jesus whom God exalts.
Note also the passive nature of Jesus exaltation. He is dead, and it is God who raises him up. This is consistent with the earliest preaching about Jesus of Nazareth. “This Jesus, whom you crucified, God has raised him up and has made him both Lord and Christ.” Resurrection here, is not a pre-ordained plan but an act upon God’s part, in response to the faithfulness of Jesus’ life. This is an affirmation of how Jesus lived and of everything he had taught. It is God’s exclamation point to the way of Jesus, the way, which Jesus said, was the way to God. And more to the point, God here is not participating in some divine drama of child sacrifice to forgive the sins of the world.
This is important because it goes to the core of Jesus life, what he proclaimed and what he practiced. Jesus in contrast to Caesar, was a man of peace and non-violence. He was a man who practiced inclusion, who sought justice for all and not just for the wealthy. Justice for Jesus was not Law and Order and keeping of the status quo. Justice was challenging the values of the systems that governed everyday life within Roman Imperialism and Temple State Judaism. Justice was challenging the powers and principalities of which the Apostle Paul speaks.
Walter Wink writes: “All of us deal with the Powers that Be. They staff our hospitals, run City Hall, sit around tables in corporate boardrooms, collect our taxes, and head our families. But the Powers That Be are more than just the people who run things. They are the systems themselves, the institutions and structures that weave society into an intricate fabric of power and relationships. These Powers surround us on every side. They are necessary. They are useful. We could do nothing without them. Who wants to do without timely mail delivery or well-maintained roads? But the Powers are also the source of unmitigated evils.”
They are the architects of the laws that favor the privileged class. Male over female, white over people of color, Americans over the rest of the world. It is the powers who seek to maintain the status quo so that income inequality continues and grows, so that government imposes no regulations regarding global warming. It is the powers that be that will use every advantage to vilify those who seek change. The fossil fuel industry opposes green energy, the private health insurers will oppose single payer health care. Gun lobbyist and the gun industry will oppose any law that restricts access to even the most outrageous and unnecessary weaponry. The US will find ways to support foreign policy that furthers the American domination of economics and oppose any policy that may seem to weaken it.
In that sense we live in a world where the powers and principalities, the rulers of this present darkness are part of what Walter Wink has defined as a domination system.
It, “the domination system” is characterized by unjust economic relations, oppressive political relations, biased race relations, patriarchal gender relations, hierarchical power relations, and the use of violence to maintain them all.”
It is the way of the world from the earliest of civilizations down to this very day. This domination system represents what scripture refers to as “the kingdom of this world.”
One of my favorite theologians, John Dominic Crossan makes the point that we do not need to demonize the powers. He says they merely represent the normalization of society. It just is the way it is. Every nation, every system, even the institutional church practices power politics and domination. It is the norm of humanity.
In writing about the Roman Empire, Crossan makes the point that Caesar Augustus had a policy, a platform, a way of looking at the world. He would sum it up in this manner:
Or in shorthand Peace through Victory.
Make no mistake about it. Caesar was a very religious person. He believed the Gods blessed and decreed his victory over Anthony and Cleopatra. This belief that the God’s bless power is as ancient as the rise of the great conquest states of Mesopotamia.
Around 3000 B.C.E. we begin to encounter evidence of warfare on a grand scale. Social systems became rigidly hierarchical, authoritarian, and patriarchal. Women were deprived of the right both to speak their minds and to control their bodies. The earliest documented effort to establish basic legal rights for citizens, Urukagina’s edict (c. 2300 B.C.E. Mesopotamia), declares, “If a woman speaks .... disrespectfully to a man, that woman’s mouth is crushed with a fired brick.”
The Myth of the redemptive value of violence is played out and told in the creation myths of ancient Babylon. In the creation epic the God Marduk slays the evil Female God, Tiamat, and from here bloody corpse creates the world. Tiamat represents chaos, Marduk order. To have civilization it is necessary and desirable to subdue chaos. Ever sense then men have perceived that establishing order requires the domination of women in order to establish order. This epic enshrines the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right. And it is one of the oldest continuously repeated stories in the world.
Today our children are indoctrinated with it through TV and Computer Games. Examples would include the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the X-men, Transformers, The Fantastic Four, Superman family, Captain America, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Batman and Robin, RoadRunner, Tom and Jerry cartoons amongst others .
Perhaps there is no better representation than Popeye. The dominant story line is a indestructible male hero, Popeye is doggedly opposed to an ir-reformable and equally indestructible male villain, Bluto. At least the villain is male, but make no mistake about it, the cause of chaos, is female, (Olive Oil). Nothing can kill the hero, through for the first three-quarters of the comic strip or TV show he suffers grievously and appears hopelessly doomed, until, miraculously, the hero breaks free, swallows his spinach and vanquishes the villain, and restores order until the next episode. Nothing finally destroys the villain or prevents his reappearance, whether the villain is soundly trounced, jailed, drowned, or shot into outer space.
Such is the myth of the redemptive power of violence. Again Crossan and others would simply say that this is simply the way that it is, it is the norm, the way of the world.
In the Hebrew scriptures, this story is captured in the story of Pharaoh and his enslavement of the Hebrews. The exodus represents God breaking into the world on behalf of the enslaved. God responds to their cry of despair. He does so through the human agency of Moses.
However stylized this story has now become, it’s basic storyline is God’s championing the cause of the poor, the oppressed, the enslaved. What follows in the exodus narrative is God calling out a people from slavery who then invites them into an alternative way of being. The story rejects the power politics of empire and domination and in its place offers the compassionate caring and sharing of neighborliness.
In fact Brueggemann would say that what we have in the Hebrew scriptures is the poetic story of God’s alternative to the way of the world. Instead of domination it is a world of sharing. Brueggemann suggests that the Bible is the record of God’s unfathomable grace seen in an economy of sharing and sufficiency. However, we prefer power to neighborliness, and wealth to sufficiency, so right along side of God’s story, is the story of the efforts of humans to domesticate God’s radicality.
Jesus of Nazareth lives out God’s way of neighborly compassion and grace. He calls it the kingdom of God.
Jesus way is:
or Peace through Justice. It is the way to the Father. And for his efforts he is killed. Never-the-less, God vindicates him, his life and his message. God raises him up and gives him a name above all names.
In contrast to the kingdoms of this world, or Peace through Victory, hence the myth of redemptive violence, Jesus offers an alternative. Jesus offers the Kingdom of God, or Peace through Justice.
Jesus invites us into a different world, a world achieved through nonviolent obedience to the way of God. It is called the way of the cross, it is manifested in the actions of Jesus where we give up domination for neighborliness. It is also likely to result in the world’s turning violently against us and our message, (perhaps this is why the church has so failed to maintain its truth) and we too will be subject to the powers and principalities and the way of the cross.
And so here we are, back at the beginning. God didn’t rescue Jesus! The world crucified him! What God did was provide a Yes, an emphatic yes to his message of nonviolent love of enemies, of praying for those who persecute you, of standing with the poor and the unclean, of giving voice to women and children. The way of Jesus is the way of suffering sevanthood and the cross.
Still we bow down and worship at the alter of domination, of power, of violence..... could it just be we don’t believe that God will vindicate us? That in spite of the motto on our currency, “In God we Trust” could it just be that what we really continue to trust to this day is the redemptive myth of violence?
The way of the cross is not very glorious. It won’t make a big splash, it won’t create cheering crowds brandishing weapons of violence vowing vengeance and retaliation for imagined wrongs. It will simply be a light in the darkness, a grain of salt to savor the whole meal, a single seed that falls to the ground and dies. That is the way of Jesus, the way of the Cross, the way to the Father. It is peace through justice, It is the alternative to the way of the world.