Sunday, April 5, 2015

Jesus' Politics, part 2: Death and Resurrection

The glorious one, the resurrected finishes his discussion of confession and forgiveness with the child who denied his Father.  

Peter: Well, that was uncomfortable.

Jesus: Wasn’t too comfortable on my side, either.

Peter: Yeah, I’m sure.  (A silence hangs in the air for a moment, as a decision to change the subject is made.)  So what is with all the elaborate setup?

Jesus: (Raises his eyebrows) Sorry?

Peter:  I’ve had some time to think and I realized—You set all this up.  The arrest, the conviction, the crucifixion.  Not only did you know it was going to take place, but you created the circumstances through which it would happen.  Okay, so why?  Why do all this?  I mean, resurrection is great and all, but why bother?  There were other ways to accomplish your goals.

Jesus: (Sits back) Really?  So what is the goal?

Peter: Well, to be Messiah, right?  To be king of Jerusalem?

Jesus: Well, kind of.  Remember my first message?  What I repeated again and again to all synagogues?

Peter: (Thinking…) Well, um.  Yeah.  “The kingdom of God is near.”  Sure.  And that’s how you establish God’s kingdom, by being Messiah, right?

Jesus: Well, that’s how I establish MY kingdom. 

Peter: (Speaking quicker, with more assurance) Same thing.  So why didn’t you establish your kingdom through armies?  Killing off your enemies?  Or why didn’t you do politics, infiltrate the Council and take power bit at a time?  Or just ask God to wipe them all out?  Or tell your followers to take over Jerusalem.

Jesus: Yes, those are all good ways to establish my kingdom.  But I never was interested in doing that.  I want to set up God’s kingdom.

Peter: I just don’t understand the difference.

Jesus: When Moses established God’s kingdom, who did the work?

Peter: Moses.  Of course.

Jesus: Um, really?  Moses freed the slaves?  Broke open the Red Sea?  Feed the masses?  Established the ten commandments?

Peter: Well, yeah… I mean, kind of.   (He slowly realizes Jesus’ point.) Well, I guess not really.  God did all the heavy lifting.

Jesus: Right.  This is the difficulty: God’s kingdom must be led by humans, because that is God’s promise to Adam and Abraham and David.  But it cannot be God’s kingdom unless it is established by God’s power and principles.

Peter: That still doesn’t explain why God didn’t just do a major miracle—like wiping out all the Roman armies—and just put you in charge.  That would be God doing the work and you stepping in.

Jesus: Yes, but that’s not how God’s justice works.

Peter: I think it’s quite just.

Jesus: (Rolling his eyes) Yes, you would.  Do you think God just wipes people off the way a child destroys ants? Don’t you yet understand God’s love for people?

Peter: I don’t think he much loves the elders and priests who killed you.  I can’t wait to see their comeuppance.

Jesus: All this time with me, and you still don’t understand the ways of God.  Haven’t you heard that God is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and forgiving to many generations?  Don’t you think that the elders and the priests and the Pharisees fall under God’s grace as much as you do, denier?

Peter: (Winces at the hard truth) Ouch.

Jesus: (Softening) I’m not trying to rebuke you, Peter, I’m trying to explain.  God isn’t interest in condemning anyone.  His mercy falls on all people.   Remember, I asked for God’s forgiveness on all those who crucified me.

Peter: (Quickly responding) I heard about that.  You said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Surely that applies to the Roman soldiers who tortured you, but not the elders or high priest.  They knew exactly what they were doing.

Jesus: (Firmly) Stop judging quickly, Peter, and start thinking with compassion!  The Council didn’t understand, either.  They thought they were protecting their temple and nation.  God’s plans were so deep, they didn’t have a clue what was going on.

Peter: (Confused, as usual) So why did you allow yourself to be killed?  Why did God resurrect you?  I understand less than before.

Jesus: (Giving that condescending smile that professors have given since time began) Good, now you are ready to hear.  Who are God’s appointed authorities?

Peter: Well, the priests, of course.

Jesus: Right.  And with them the High Priest, right?

Peter: Of course.

Jesus: What about the Council of elders?

Peter: Well, they are given authority in the Scriptures…

Jesus: Yes.  Who else?   

Peter:  Um… maybe the Emperor?

Jesus:  That’s right.  Who else?

Peter: I’m not sure.

Jesus: Under the Emperor is the Roman army.  And Pilate, who condemned me to death.

Peter:  Pilate was established by God?

Jesus: Absolutely.  I told him so myself.

Peter: (Smiling slyly) I bet he loved that.

Jesus: He avoided almost everything about me.  You know who else is established by God?  The Pharisees, who plotted my death.  And the Sadducees who hated me.  And Herod who condemned me.  But you see?  Since God established all of them, do I have the right to take them down, to destroy them, to take their place.

Peter: Well, if you were appointed by God, as you were, then you had that right…

Jesus: (Slightly exasperated)  Do you really think so?  Look, David was appointed by God while Saul was still ruling God’s kingdom. Did David have the right to take out God’s appointed Messiah and put himself in Saul’s place, even though he had God’s anointing?

Peter:  Actually, no.  It’s strange, but he made a point of stepping back and never even touching Saul, because he was God’s appointed king.

Jesus: That’s right. David didn’t step toward ruling the kingdom until God had dealt with Saul himself. Until Saul had proven that he was unworthy and had been judged by heaven.  David never raised a pinky against Saul, even though he had the promise.

Peter: So he waited for God to act?

Jesus: Yes, because God has to establish His kingdom.  We humans can’t do it ourselves.  Our place is to wait for God to act.

Peter: So why didn’t you hide out in the desert, like David, and wait for God to act against the evil authorities?

Jesus: Well, first, it would take forever.  There’s always a new High Priest, always new Pharisees, always another Herod, another governor appointed by the Emperor.  Also, there needed to be decisive proof that these authorities were evil.  They needed to all be complicit in the worst deed a God-appointed authority can do.

Peter: (Guessing) Sexual immorality?

Jesus: Worse than that.

Peter: Umm… (Thinking for a minute). Taking a bribe?

Jesus: Do you want me to tell you?

Peter: Sure.

Jesus: Killing an innocent citizen.

Peter: (Incredulous) Really?  These guys have done that for years!   Blood drips from their hands!

Jesus: That’s true.  But now they have gone that extra step—they have killed God’s chosen one.  They have killed the Messiah, the Son of God.  Every life is worth a world.  But the stirring of God’s ire against them is rising into a flood of wrath.  They prove themselves to be the anti-David, more than willing to destroy God’s chosen if it is politically convenient.  They have proven, decisively, that they are unworthy to lead God’s people.  That they need to step aside.

Peter: Is that why you are resurrected? 

Jesus: Among other reasons.  It is true.  I was sent to dark Sheol, where those who have been declared guilty go.  But my case was given before the final Judge of heaven and earth, and he decided to overturn the verdict of the Pharisees, of the Council, of Herod and of Pilate.  They declared the very innocent one to be guilty, and so their sentence was reversed.  And I was brought back.

Peter: So now, now is the time? Now God will take them out, and destroy them?

Jesus: No.  Our political campaign isn’t over.

Peter: What do you mean?  We’ve done the work.  You paid the ultimate price.  It’s time to end this and establish your kingdom.

Jesus: You are right.  It is time for God’s reign through me to begin.  And I will go and take this kingdom up very quickly.

Peter: (Standing up in excitement)  Well great!  I’ll call the others over and we’ll gather all the followers back and we will take over Jerusalem…

Jesus: (Laughing out loud)  Peter, you know I love you, right?

Peter: (Eyes like slits)  I hate it when you do that.  You make me look like an idiot.

Jesus: (Slyly) I’ve never had to do that, Peter.  Why do you think I named you “rock”?  No, this dirty, unholy Jerusalem is not where I will receive God’s kingdom.  You think the Father will come down here and hand me this mess?  My kingdom is not of this world.  I must receive it elsewhere.

Peter: (Eyes tearing up, delving into the waters of mourning he had just released. ) You go to the Father?  You will leave us again?  Can’t you take us with you?

Jesus: No, Peter, I can’t.  I will go to heaven and try to repair the world from up there.  But the work you will do is just as difficult.

Peter:  (Tears dripping down his face.) Great.

Jesus:  Peter, it’s okay.  I’ll make sure you are ready.  You’ll have enough time to mourn and to be prepared, I promise. 

Peter: What is this work?

Jesus: You know that I forgave all the authorities that killed me.  I want you and your fellows to go to them all and give them an opportunity to repent and to be a part of my kingdom.

Peter:  How does one become a part of your kingdom, Lord?

Jesus: Same as always, Peter.  Turning away from the nations of this world, even Judea and the priesthood, and taking on the rite of immigration to my kingdom-- being baptized in my name.

Peter: The authorities would never do that. 

Jesus: Probably not.  But some will surprise you.  Even Gentiles, even oppressors of our people, will come into my kingdom. 

Peter: Yeah, sure.  We won’t even get an audience with the Council or Pilate or Herod, let alone the emperor.  No one will listen to us.

Jesus: You’ll see.  Tell them of my resurrection.

Peter: Couldn’t you do this yourself, Lord?  We’ll talk with them, but it would be much more convincing if you show yourself, alive and glorious, ready to rule God’s kingdom.

Jesus: Then they might hesitate to show who they really are.

Peter: What do you mean?  How do they do that?

Jesus: They are killers of the innocent.  And even if I have forgiven them, many of them will refuse to repent and continue to kill the innocent.  Once they have made their final refusal, then God will step in and take them out.

Peter: Wait… you are talking about us, aren’t you?

Jesus: Yes.  I will send to them apostles and prophets and they will kill you.  You will go to kings and judges and priests and emperors and they will show you who they really are.  And God will then judge them according to their actions.

Peter:  So when you said to take up your cross…

Jesus: I meant it literally.  It is the only way to establish my kingdom on earth.  And when I come, you, in full resurrected splendor, will reign with me as well as all your companions who were rejected by this world by enacting the mercy and grace and compassion of God.

Peter: Well, that’s a tall order.

Jesus: Yes, it is.  Few will be able to accept it.  But I have confidence in you.

Peter: But I’m not worthy.  How do you know that I won’t deny you again?  I’m already broken, fallen.

Jesus: Yes.  I know.  But I have confidence in you, Peter.  In all of you.  As broken as you are, that’s just how strong God will make you for this work.

Peter: So when you establish the kingdom in heaven…

Jesus: So you will establish my kingdom on earth.  Bring people to me, Peter.  I’ll  take care of the rest.

Peter: (Breathes deeply the breath of decisiveness.) Okay.  I’ll do it.

Jesus: I knew you would. 

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