Friday, January 20, 2012

Paul's Enactment Of His Kingdom Agenda (part 1)

After he said this, Paul took bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all, broke it, and began to eat. – Acts 27:35  (NET)

The Apostle Paul, as might be expected, attempted to model his life and ministry based on his understanding of what he had learned about Jesus, His life, His ministry, and the implications of both the crucifixion and the Resurrection.  Part of that modeling would take the form of setting forth a ministerial principle, and then when given the opportunity, in a time of great distress, of living according to what you have set forth. 

Do we see this in the life and ministry of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels?  Indeed we do.  In Matthew’s Gospel, in the course of Matthew’s construction of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” we hear Jesus say “You have heard that is was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer.  But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well.  And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two” (5:38-42).  Without getting in to the sociological, historical, and honor/shame constructs of this statement, nor the significance of the geographical location from which these words are on offer as part of Matthew’s narrative, we can acknowledge that these are principles espoused and encouraged by Jesus.  To determine whether or not He lived by these principles, which we could also refer to as Jesus’ “kingdom agenda,” we need merely advance forward in Matthew’s Gospel, to the scene of Jesus’ “trial” and crucifixion. 

While Jesus and His disciples are in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Judas, one of the twelve, arrived.  With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent by the chief priests and the elders of the people… they came and took hold of Jesus and arrested Him” (26:47b,50b).  Jesus does not resist.  However, “one of those with Jesus grabbed his sword, drew it out, and struck the high priest’s slave, cutting off his ear” (26:51).   This is precisely antithetical to the introduction of the principles that formed Jesus’ kingdom agenda.  In response, Jesus commands the erring disciple to “Put your sword back in its place,” reminding him that “all who take hold of the sword will die by the sword” (26:52), which is certainly a play on the sensibilities created by “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 

There in the twenty-sixth chapter we also find that “they spat in His face and struck Him with their fists.  And some slapped Him” (26:67).  Though we do not have a record of Jesus’ response, if we allow ourselves to be led according to Matthew’s purposes, what we here find is that Jesus does not resist.  Drawing out what the author obviously intends, we have to imagine Jesus responding by offering the left cheek as well.  In chapter twenty-seven, as Jesus is in the residence of Pilate, we read that “They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe around Him… When they had mocked Him, they stripped Him of the robe and put his own clothes back on Him” (27:28,31a).  Here again, Matthew’s intention is clear.  Though a one to one comparison is not on offer, and we don’t see Jesus being stripped of His tunic and then His coat (much like we don’t actually read about Him turning the other cheek), there are two instances of stripping, which certainly stand in quite well for tunic and coat.

Jesus’ principle concerning the second mile does require a bit of explanation, as it has to do with fact that a Roman soldier could requisition a subject individual to carry his pack, but for no more than a mile.  So as not to engender any additional malice towards Rome, a soldier could not force a person to carry his pack beyond a mile.  Again, without getting into the sociological issues that Jesus is addressing in this portion of His kingdom agenda, it is not at all difficult to equate the pack of the Roman soldier with the burden of the Roman cross.  Though we do not attempt to insist that Jesus carried the cross for two miles, and while we recognize that Simon of Cyrene, according to the Gospel tradition, was drafted from the crowd to carry Jesus’ cross when Jesus was unable to do so, it stands that Jesus, when faced with the task at hand, did not shirk from the duty that He believed to be required of Him as the God of Israel worked through Him to establish His kingdom.  Of course, it can also be said that the fact that Jesus went to the cross could very well be considered to be going the second mile.   Either way, Matthew succeeds is his mission of demonstrating that Jesus sets forth his principled agenda, and when pressed, is found to be faithful to His words.  

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