Once upon a time there was a people of tremendous military might. Their strength and ferocity was marked by the king of birds–the eagle.
This great people proclaimed itself to be the bringer of the Great Peace.
where they make a desert, they call it peace. (Tacitus)
e pluribus unum
The earliest Christians were not naïve about how power worked. They were not blind to the brutal realities of tyranny and the need to stand against it.
That’s precisely why the earliest followers of Jesus lived in eager anticipation of the time when Jesus would overthrow their Roman overlords. That’s precisely why they literally could not hear Jesus’ promise that he was going to die as messiah. That’s precisely why they wanted to call down fire from heaven on those who rejected them. That’s precisely why they thought Jesus a failure after he was crucified.
“But we had thought he was the one who was going to redeem Israel?”
The temptation didn’t go away. The temptation to imagine that true peace, true freedom, could only be had if someone came who acted like Rome but out Romed Rome–better deployment of troops, better handling of swords.
The next generation of Jesus followers faced it to.
That’s what Mark 13 is about: false Christs will arise saying, “I’m the guy!” What’s the context? The time when Jerusalem’s stones will be thrown down. The time when Rome executes its next devastating act of military victory over Judea in AD 70.
The time when Christians are not to get carried away, thinking that the way to the reign of God, of peace, of justice upon the earth is to be had by way of the sword.
The temptation didn’t go away.
The idea that the transformation of the economy of power in the world might happen by something other than the sword has never caught on. Rome’s been gone for over a thousand years, Jesus is still proclaimed as Lord long after such an acclamation has ever been given to a Caesar, but still we do not believe it.
The innocence of the dove alludes us, even as we call ourselves Christians.
The subversive alternative of the Dove to the Eagle alludes us, despite its descent upon Jesus at his anointing to his messianic office (HT: Peppard).
The way of peace, the way of the cross, the way of Jesus, probably doesn’t make for good Empire building. But maybe Empire building isn’t our calling in the first place?
Maybe our calling is, instead, to embody a witness to an alternative economy, an economy in which self-giving love has a Divine power to overcome even the life-taking hatred of the world’s superpower.
“He rose again on the third day.”
To stand in the faith of the Christian church is to attest to this one great fact: the military power of the world cannot overcome the life-giving power of God.
Has military power been, can it ever be, the conduit of that life-giving power?
The disciples sure thought so…