Journey: Over the Line

Read: “Jesus, Violence, and Power”

Jeannie and I were fortunate that our only trip to the Holy Land included a visit to Caesarea Philippi.  The only thing I regret is that I did not go there with as much background as McLaren provided.  I went knowing that the experience Jesus had with his disciples at Caesarea Philippi was pivotal, but I did not visit the city realizing how counter-cultural Peter’s statement was–how subversive it was.

Jesus said that Peter’s declaration was true, and now I am thinking that the truth in Peter’s words were, in fact, what sealed Jesus’ fate–the words inevitably returned him to Jerusalem, where both the Jews and the Romans would believe they were acting on God’s behalf to kill him.

For the Jews, “Messiah” was a step too far.  For the Romans, “son of the living God” was the last straw.  After those two things were in place in Jesus (which they were due to the Incarnation), his death made perfect sense to those whose deeply-held status quo could not absorb the new reality.

By-and-large, Christians today co-exist with church and state until they proclaim and personify things the home-town teams cannot accept.  Then, like it or not, the power brokers conclude that  “trouble makers” have to go.  No matter how esteemed we have previously been, counter-cultural Christians are thrown out of the club swiftly and summarily.

And then, as McLaren points out, it is how Jesus left that made all the difference.  He left counter-culturally as well–not inflicting violence on his opponents (as priests and potentates did), but rather absorbing violence from them.  In other words–the Cross.

Jesus commended Peter and then turned right around and condemned him.  Why?  Because he (and the rest of us like him) so quickly forget that our identity inevitably means we have to act like who we say we are.  Religious institutions and cultures don’t like that kind of congruence any more now than they did then. 

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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