Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Christ the Non-Example

From John Howard Yoder's "The Politics of Jesus" (p. 95) on imitating Jesus:
... let us first note the absence of the concept of imitation as a general pastoral or moral guideline. There is in the New Testament no Franciscan glorification of barefoot itinerancy. Even when Paul argues the case for celibacy, it does not occur to him to appeal to the example of Jesus. Even when Paul explains his own predilection for self-support there is no appeal to Jesus' years as a village artisan. Even when the apostle argues strongly the case for his teaching authority, there is no appeal to the rabbinic ministry of Jesus. Jesus' trade as a carpenter, his association with fishermen, and his choice of illustrations from the life of the sower and the shepherd have throughout Christian history given momentum to the romantic glorification of the handcrafts and the rural life; but there is none of this in the New Testament. It testifies throughout to the life and mission of a church going intentionally into the cities in full knowledge of the conflicts which awaited believers there. That the concept of imitation is not applied by the New Testament at some of those points where Franciscan and romantic devotion has tried most piously to apply it, is all the more powerfully a demonstration of how fundamental the thought of participation in the suffering of Christ is when the New Testament church sees it as guiding and explaining her attitude to the powers of the world. Only at one point, only on one subject - but then consistently, universally - is Jesus our example: in his cross.



Jodie said...

Is that supposed to make me feel better?

Tim Archer said...

Wow! Powerful thought. Though I'm not sure how 1 Corinthians 11:1 fits into what Yoder says. Are we to assume that Paul has the cross in mind in this passage?

Grace and peace,
Tim Archer

Aric Clark said...

@ Tim,

Paul is talking about table fellowship with gentiles there - an example of the kind of behavior Jesus was crucified for. So yes, I think Paul does have the cross on his mind. I think he is saying behave in the political sphere the way Jesus behaved - the way that leads to the cross.

As with any generalized point, if pushed too hard it would probably break. I think the Franciscan romanticizing of poverty, for example, is pretty christ-like overall. As a pastor, I certainly don't chide people for using Jesus as a moral exemplar.

What I think is significant about what Yoder is saying here is that there is not some generic imperative to act like Yeshua of Nazareth. We don't all need to be 1st century palestinian carpenters (and can't be!). What IS important is the highly specific moral imperative to reject the coercive power of governance on the one hand, and quietism on the other hand. To behave as if the Kingdom of God were a concrete reality presently available.

It's this kind of thinking that leads to table fellowship with gentiles and sinners, the undermining of the principalities and powers, the communion of the saints, the spread of God's Shalom, and death on a cross. Yoder really hammers the point that the cross, is not a theological metaphor for any kind of suffering from hangnails to bourgeois anomie. The cross is the response of the powers to the political option of Jesus.

Jodie said...

"The cross is the response of the powers to the political option of Jesus."

And what then?...

The resurrection is the response of God's power to the response of the powers to the political option of Jesus?

But it's a quiet resurrection. He doesn't march into Pilate's office smugly shouting "I'm baack" or into Herod's courtyard knocking "Guess who?".

I would have.

The Lion of Judah is a lamb, as if slain.

So, now what?