REVIEW // Jesus and Empire

In his book, Jesus and Empire, Richard Horsley seeks to re-examine the social and political context of first century Israel in search for the true message of Jesus. Why is this necessary? Horsley insists that the modern assumption of western culture is to separate religion from politics and economy, resulting in a “depoliticized Jesus.” However, the danger in depoliticizing Jesus is that it reduces him down to just a religious teacher who uttered isolated sayings relevant only to individuals.

Individualism is not the reality of Jesus’ political and social context. Instead, it is a western ideology that has damaged the search for the historical Jesus. Jesus’ ministry was in the midst of a massive political-economic struggle under Roman Imperialism. This oppressive reality significantly shaped Jesus’ mission and message.

Horsley provides a thorough background of the political, economic and social context of first century Israel starting with the dominant Roman Empire. The Rise of Roman rule in Israel-Judea brought about what Horsley calls “the new world disorder.” This significantly altered the way of life for the people of Galilee and Judea who were the recipients of Jesus’ ministry. Horsley further highlights differences among the people of Galilee and those of Judea, as well as between people in positions of power and privilege, with the peasant majority. The Jewish high priesthood was a part of the Roman rule, but the vast majority of the Jewish people were peasants, being oppressively ruled over. In this system, Rome was portrayed as the powerful protector, offering peace and salvation to those who would “believe” in the empire. It is this religious, political-economic, and social context that Jesus presents his message.

With Jesus’ context illuminated, Horsley argues that a “relational approach” to Jesus’ ministry is drastically needed. If the words of Jesus are taken as isolated sayings and are heard not as communicating something significant to a particular people in a concrete historical situation, then Jesus has been limited to a dehistoricized “talking head” (56). To illustrate this, Horsley uses the example of taking statements made by Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address out of its literary and social context. Yet another example would be taking Martin Luther King Jr.’s statements and sermons out of the context of the civil rights movement. Horsley argues that doing this would cause one to completely misunderstand their actual message. Thus, it is important not to do that with Jesus’ message. When a relational approach is taken with Jesus’ message, Horsley contends that it is clearly about the “Kingdom of God.” That is, it’s about the renewal of Israel in the midst of their earthly oppressive from empire. With the authority of judgment, Jesus (as prophet) proclaims condemnation on Rome, the political-economic oppressor, and announces the end of the Roman rule, displayed through exorcisms, healings and miraculous signs.

To demonstrate the significance of Jesus’ ministry and message in its correct political and socio-historical context, Horsley analyzes both the Gospel of Mark and the Jesus-speeches in Q. Taking the whole reading/story of Mark, he reiterates that the dominant theme running throughout is clearly the presence of the kingdom of God. This overarching theme encompasses Jesus’ prophetic condemnation of oppressive rulers as well as his prophetic renewal of Israel. Thus Jesus preaches the “kingdom of God” in opposition to the existing unjust social, economic and political structures and presents a direct challenge to the representatives of the Roman imperial order. Jesus is both embedded in the native Israelite tradition, as well as the distinct socio-political context. Therefore, his teachings cannot be isolated from this if they are to be truly understood. Jesus challenged the system by preaching a message of hope, deliverance, empowerment and renewal to the Jewish people. In bringing the kingdom of God, no earthly empire will stand, but all will be condemned.

Horsley concludes the book by making a bold and somewhat controversial claim that America represents an empire much like Rome did in Jesus’ time. Though many like to think of America as the “new Israel,” it is more characterized as the “new Rome.” There is no denying that America is powerful and holds a significant amount of control over the world’s resources. Horsley points out that the proportion of goods consumed by ancient Rome never even came close to the 75 percent of the world’s resources currently being consumed by Americans (143). Given the current realities, it would be difficult for an American to claim that they are representative of the biblical people of Israel, who were constantly the “little guys” fighting the oppression of superpower after superpower. This doesn’t present a pretty image of America, but one cannot deny the realistic picture Horsley so vividly paints of empire.

Overall, Horsley is thorough in his historical research and strong in his critique about how New Testament scholars have missed the point of Jesus’ mission and message. He is articulate in his writing, handles scripture with care, and is not afraid to draw his own conclusions from the data available. At times, this leads him to present ideas that are a stretch at best, like his interpretation of the “legion-ary” reference in the story of the demon possessed man (Mark 5:1-20). While Horsley overemphasizes particular ideas often, his main idea of the importance of reading and understanding Jesus in the political, economic, and social context of Roman imperialism is solid and commendable. If Jesus’ message is read as isolated religious sayings out of his original context then his message has been all but lost.

ask. seek. knock.

“All you got to do is ask…”

I often hear this phrase in the form of that oh-so-subtle ‘gentle whisper’. But I’m a worrier. I get anxious really easy. It’s hard for me to ask for help. I’d rather stress out and believe that the world is actually caving in. Why? I have no idea.

Right now I’m at a time in my life where all I can do is ask God what’s “next.” If I don’t start seeking I’m not going to find anything. I’m at a crossroad and not sure which way to go. And then I hear it: “All you got to do is ask…” Wait… There it is again. “God? Is that You?”

I’m sure everyone would love to receive a personal visit from God and listen intently while He reveals His grandiose plan for their life. I know I would. But somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen. What I can bank on though is that if I ask, I’ll receive — if I seek, I’ll find — and if I knock, the door will be opened. Agh, it sounds so easy, but what if I don’t get the answer I want? What if I don’t like what’s on the other side of the door? Hmmm… That could be a problem. I think the real question is Do I believe that the Father is good?

Yes.

So the answer I receive should be good. Right?

What I find will be good.

What lies on the other side of the door is good.

Even IF it’s not what I had in mind.

The bottom line is this: The Father is good and He gives good gifts to His children.

I am His child. So if I ask, he’ll give me something good.

All that’s required of me is to have faith that He’s the good Father He promises to be. And I do.

So I stand outside the door and knock, waiting for the surprise that awaits me. God, thank You for Your goodness. Thank You for Your promises. Help me to treat others with the same goodness You have shown me. I’m looking forward to the journey of what lies ahead — the joy, the suffering, the pain, the adventure. No matter what it looks like, I know that it will be completely and utterly rewarding, so long as You are at the CENTER. Amen!

What do you need to ask for? To seek after? What doors are waiting to be opened in your life?

Week 3 // 100 Days

WEEK 3

Matthew 11 // Jesus fulfills the Messiah requirements of Isaiah 35:5-6, 61:1, healing the sick and preaching the good news. Jesus is the One, the Messiah, the Son of God, who is gentle and humble in hear, who gives us rest for our weary souls.

Matthew 12 // Jesus breaks the ‘rules’ but proclaims he is the ‘Lord of the sabbath’. He’s also accused of healing and driving out demons in the name of satan, yet a kingdom can’t be divided among itself. Either you’re good or bad. Good produces good.

Matthew 13 // Jesus speaks in parables about the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is like good soil, good seed, a mustard seed, yeast, treasure, a pearl, and a fishing net. A disciple hears, listens, and follows with obedience in the kingdom.

Matthew 14 // John the baptist is beheaded. Upon hearing this, Jesus wants to be alone, but has compassion on the crowds and miraculously feed them. Then he gets his solitude to pray. Peter walks on water. Jesus has compassion. Do I?

Matthew 15 // Jesus isn’t about tradition, but about serving God. It’s not what enters the body, but what comes from the heart that’s evil. Another story of a woman with great faith & Jesus continues to have compassion on people, healing & feeding multitudes.

Yahweh Yahweh

It’s always a good sign when two of your favorite worship leaders decide to write a song together. At Your Name is a great new worship song written by Tim Hughes and Phil Wickham and it speaks of the holiness/sacredness/greatness of God, while proclaiming that Jesus IS that great God!

Below is a video of Phil sharing the story behind the song and then performing it. I hope it touches you in a supernatural way like it has for me.

LYRICS //
At Your Name, the mountains shake and crumble
At Your Name, the oceans roar and tumble
At Your Name, angles will bow the earth will rejoice
Your people cry out

Lord of all the earth
we shout Your Name, shout Your Name
Filling up the skies
with endless praise, endless praise
YAHWEH, YAHWEH
we love to shout Your Name
oh Lord

At Your Name, the morning breaks in glory
At Your Name, creation sings Your story
At Your Name, angles will bow the earth will rejoice
Your people cry out

There is no one like our God
we will praise You, praise You
JESUS is our God
we will sing, we will sing