Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, ii

Yoder begins his reading of Luke with the songs of Lk 1-2, noting their announcement of an "agent of radical social change" (p22). He helpfully notes that the language of the annunciation(s) cannot be interpreted as 'spiritual', as if they were mistaken in their hopes. If that were the case, Luke would have written differently, and marked the error of such expectations. He then skips forward to Luke 3:21-4:14, traditionally the baptism and temptation of Jesus (Commissioning and Testing in Yoder's work). He notes that Lk 3:22 with its allusion to Ps 2:7 and Is 42:1 merges the themes of enthronement and suffering servant. Yoder then engages in a persuasive reading of the temptation narrative in terms of the "ways of being king" (p25), laid out as feeding the masses, "the idolatrous character of political power hunger and nationalism" (p26), and a triumphant appearance of a religious messiah to refor the religio-political status quo. Jesus' rejection of these temptations leads to his paradigmatic platform in Luke 4:14ff and Isa 61:1-2. Yoder unpacks this in terms of the Jubilee Year, particularly its prophetic understanding. The second thrust of his proclamation is the new age of Gentile inclusion, which would undercut any nationalistic egocentricism in receiving the Jubilee proclamation (p32).

From Luke 6:12ff, Yoder sees Jesus responding to the backlash to his work with the organisation of a "new social reality" (p33) centered on the 12. Yoder interprets the basis of this new social reality as a reaffirmation of the platform established in Luke 4:14ff. He then focuses on the feeding in the desert, noting it as the "culmination of the popular Galilean ministry and the transition both to a ministry centered more on the disciples and to the approach to Jerusalem" (p35). Luke 9:22 heralds the alternative to the crown of the Welfare King, the cross of Jerusalem. From this point on the cross looms over the Jesus-band. Yoder interprets Luke 12-14 in terms of the cost of discipleship, highlighting the point of Luke 14:25ff as Jesus "calling into being a community of voluntary commitment, willing for the sake of its calling to take upon itself the hostility of the given society" (p37). Yoder again and again points out that Jesus does not "reprimand his disciples for expecting him to establish some new social order, as he would have had to do if the thesis of the only-spiritual kingdom were to prevail. He rather reprimands them for having misunderstood the character of that new social order which he does intent to set up" (p38). The point of distinction is not spiritual, or visibility, but the alternative lifestyle of the social alternative.

In the triumphal entry and temple-cleansing, Yoder sees Jesus at the peak of his opportunity to seize power in some kind of coup d'etat. Jesus instead withdraws to Bethany, and the moment passes. "Every pericope in the section 19:47-22:2 reflects in some way the confrontation of two social systems and Jesus' rejection of the status quo." (p44) Passing on to the Arrest of Jesus, Yoder lays down the interpretation of "Let this cup pass from me?" in real terms - what is the alternative to the cross? This is now Jesus' last opportunity to take up Satan's temptation, the option of a divine crusade and a Zealot-like kingship (p48). In dealing with the trial and crucifixion, Yoder continues to point out what should be obvious - if Jesus was some apolitical spiritual leader, why would he be such a threat in the way that he is, and crucified as "King of the Jews". Luke 24:21 "is not just one more tesitomy to the disciples' obtuse failure to get Jesus' real point; it is an eyewitness report of the way Jesus had been heard." (p51)

Yoder concludes his chapter with the point he has been making throughout - Jesus' call is "to an ethic marked by the cross, a cross identified as the punishment of a man who threatens society by creating a new kind of community leading a radically new kind of life".

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