Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Counter Imperial Cross

In our traditions - Luke 14:25-33, Luke 9:23-24, Matt 10:34-39, Matt 16:24-25, Mark 8:34-35, GThom 101, cf. John 12:25 - there is the notion of Jesus calling disciples who will carry their cross and follow him. Many arguments have been made for the historicity of this logion based on multiple attestation and the historicity is accepted by Crossan [The Historical Jesus, pg. 353] and J. P. Meier [A Marginal Jew, III, pg. 64-66]. We follow Meier's reasoning in accepting the logion based on the shocking imagery and the multiple attestation. Meier also notes the parallel of Epictetus, [Discourses 2.2.20] as support of a wide propagation of the crucifixion image in the early Roman period. This is also accepted by Wright who states that:

Crucifixion was a powerful symbol throughout the Roman world. It was not just a means of liquidating undesirables; it did so with the maximum degradation and humiliation. It said, loud and clear: we are in charge here; your are our property; we can do what we like with you. It insisted, coldly and brutally, on the absolute sovereignty of Rome, and of Caesar. It told an implicit story, of the uselessness of rebel recalcitrance and the ruthlessness of imperial power. It said in particular: this is what happens to rebel leaders. Crucifixion was a symbolic act with a clear and frightening meaning. [Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, pg. 543]

Given this apt description and its symbolic value in the socio-historical context, Jesus must have been summoning disciples to a counter imperial allegiance. An allegiance to the Empire of YHWH. Jesus was appealing for a conversion of allegiance from the Roman Empire and everything else, to himself. In affect, it appears as if Jesus was asking them to become apostates of their faith and to rather embrace him as their true King.

But this begs the more important question of why Jesus would use such an image? This piece of the data must fit into our overall hypothesis, which I think many in the "Third Quest" have yet to do. Following Wright (JVG) and Trocmé (Jesus and the Non-Violent Revolution) Jesus was posing a revolution [although that's a slippery word) but not the sort Reimarus had in mind. Jesus' revolution was one of non-violence, of going the road of passive resistance. According to Trocmé's analysis, his portrait is of a vigorous revolutionary capable of saving the world without using violence. It was a road of defeating the love of power [Rome and the Satan] with the power of love. It was a road marked by non-compromise to the gods of this world. Augustus had set himself up as LORD and SAVIOUR but Jesus was challenging that very understanding. Emperors like Tiberius and those that would follow, were not the true LORD and SAVIOUR. They were tyrants who wanted to use Power to control the populace. But to follow Jesus in accepting him as their true Kyrios, meant that they would follow a path that would almost certainly lead to their death, as it finally did with Jesus.

To follow Jesus is to accept a path that will lead to pain and suffering and probably death. As Keener says, the demands of the kingdom are so offensive to a world alredy convinced of its rightness that they provoke tht world's hostility. [Keener, Matthew, pg. 329]. Keener goes on to suggest that the whole context of Jesus' ministry, and language may even indicate that Jesus' mission would inaugurate the messainic woes, the ultimate tribulation for his followers.

So in our tradition about picking up one's cross, and embracing Jesus as Master, the convert is being called to embrace a vocation that is implicitly counter-imperial - it is bearing a cross. The way of the cross is the way of revolting against Rome and her oppresive idealogy and praxis. It is the way of submitting to another King, named Jesus.


1 comment:

eddie said...

Could you perhaps flesh out why 'picking up the cross' would be understood as counter-imperial? Could it not eqully be understood as resignation, acceptance of Roman power of them?

Metaphorically, Jesus' is commanding his followers to pick up the symbol of Roman power and suppression and carry it with them in their minds as they follow him. Following him implies a new praxis were violent revolution on the part of the Jews, attempts to throw off the Roman yoke have no part. It is a call to accept what was considered to be the unacceptable, Pagan dominion over Gods people. It is a reality which they must live within and Jesus instructs them how do to so.

To deny oneself (which forms part of the statement to 'take up your cross' in all three gospels) would be to deny ones revolutionary tendencies, ones desire for freedom from Caesar, from foreign rule.