Apocalypse Now Small Group
For Lent — from February 25 (Ash Wednesday) to April 11 (Easter is the 12th)
All Saints United Methodist Church
Apocalypse Now Links:
Part One – Volcano
Part Two – 28 Days Later
Part Three – Children of Men
Part Four – The War of the Lamb
Part Five – Revelation
Part Four The War of the Lamb
Notes on The War of the Lamb
One rendition of historical Jesus (long hair was not the custom of the day for men, and Jesus is here portrayed as a fairly typical Palestinian Jew, circa 30 AD)
In the section for Week 5, when we are reading the Book of the Revelation of John, we will spend a fair amount of time unpacking the historical context, and interpreting both Greek language nuances and genre-specific symbolism for Jewish apocalyptic writing. Chapter 12 of John Howard Yoders book, The Politics of Jesus, the chapter entitled The War of the Lamb (reprinted below, Note 7), will not prepare us for that kind of scholarly investigation, but will deal in advance with the modern ideas with which we are more familiar treating the series of visions described in Johns Apocalypse as if we have already accomplished the scholarship.
Yoders chapter will look into John of Patmos (the seer of Patmos one who sees visions) visions for what they mean to us now.
This reversal of the usual academic sequence working out from the original source and finally into our own experience we are doing the opposite is a reversal of that method. Instead of jumping into the deep end and swimming back to shore, so to speak, we have been wading into the shallow end and taking steps toward the deeper water, getting used to the water as we go.
First, we used a B-movie, an entertainment commodity, that attaches itself to certain familiar cultural conventions, and which we normally consume passively light-mindedly, participating in the story uncritically; and we tried to become critical about the film Volcano as a way of practicing critical thinking about these cultural conventions. We were knee-deep.
Then we studied a film that was more innovative an independent film and one that was a good deal less light-minded: 28 Days Later. Character development was more nuanced. The imagery (as we will see in Revelation, too) is more violent and disturbing. The direction and editing is edgier. The moral dilemmas are more stark (Selena killing Mark, for example). The intermediate themes are more controversial (military as rape culture, for example, or science and the attempt to control nature, as far less benign than Volcanos portrayal of the Man-conquers-Nature trope).
By the time we studied this film, we had already begun to familiarize ourselves with some epistemological questions. Those questions bear on the ethical dilemmas raised in these conditions of extremity; and we had already practiced looking through our heuristic device of the Ecology-Culture-Personhood Triangle, as a way of giving ourselves a dislocative jolt out of the passive acceptance of our day-to-day, 21st Century way-of-knowing. By now, we were waist-deep in the water.
Finally, we watched Children of Men, a film based on a dystopian novel written by a Christian author, a film with very original production values, and a film with cristological overtones that were very apparent, beginning with the title (a play on Jesus title, the Son of Man meaning the human one in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), and ending with a miraculous birth (of hope) in the midst of an extremely broken and seemingly hopeless world.
Here we stepped further away from the familiar shore. We are in the water to our chests.
Yoder will hold our hand as we wade out to our necks, and we begin to let our feet release the bottom a bit as we experience our own buoyancy.
Theologian Ivan Illich who we have also followed in this study said that modernity (and its stepchild, postmodernity) and its vagaries were not anti-Christian, but that they are the outgrowth of a perversion of Christianity a distortion of the call to discipleship exemplified by the Samaritan as friendship across social boundaries (in the case of the Samaritan, a member of an enemy people) and a constant choice of fidelity or infidelity to that friendship.
This distortion of the message of the Samaritan began with the Constantinianiztion of the church (an alliance with the Powers) and the criminalization of sin. It culminated in the depersonalization of service, and the creation of a new personhood one characterized by alienation from ones own body, and by incessant attention to our own needs with respect to that divorced body.
This loss of the sense of our own carnality (fleshiness) is reflected in an idea of Christ that is no longer incarnational no longer wet, warm, throbbing, alive, centered in our skins, experiencing suffering and joy that is physical and in the world. This depersonalization corresponds to an instrumental and objectifying approach to both culture and ecology. We stand apart from ourselves, looking in from the outside; and we stand apart from our dis-enchanted environment (reducing it to a supply of resources), and we stand apart as a culture. We become a culture of abstraction, of general laws, of categorical imperatives, of conformity, and all the boundaries that were effaced by love when the Samaritan took the beaten Jew off the road and into his home all these boundaries that were broken on the cross, are redrawn. We begin to talk about values (a rather abstract concept) in place of right and wrong good and evil. We go down the endless and pointless path of relativism (relativistic being far different from relational).
[Illich also said that we have entered a new period, post-instrumentalist, wherein we conceive of everything including our own selves and bodies as systems an array of feedback loops, or an immune system. Treating others instrumentally, however, seems not to have passed, but become more and more normative and malignant. All others are seen as a means to some self-serving end in the medicalized language of psychoanalysis, narcissism.]
Yoder takes on the same subject Christianity versus Christendom the latter being that alliance of the church (and its perversion) with the Powers (e.g., the state and-or its dominant classes) and with the instrumentality that plays the chicken to the Powers egg.
In Stanely Haeurwas book, After Christendom?, in an essay entitled Why There Is No Salvation Outside the Church, he notes, anticipating our reading of the visions of the seer of Patmos:
God in Jesus has defeated the powers so that as disciples we can confidently live as a cruciform community in a world that has chosen not to be ruled by such love. Thus as John Howard Yoder suggests, The Church precedes the world epistemologically. We know more fully from Jesus Christ and in the context of the confessed faith than we know in other ways. The meaning and validity, and limits, of concepts like nature or a science are not best seen when looked at alone but in the light of the confession of the lordship of Christ. The church precedes the world as well axiologically, in that the lordship of Christ is the center which must guide critical value choices, so that we may be called to subordinate or even to reject those values which contradict Jesus.
If we say, outside the church there is no salvation we make a claim about the very nature of salvation namely that salvation is Gods work to restore all creation to the Lordship of Christ. Such a salvation is about the defeat of powers that presume to rule outside Gods providential care. Such salvation is not meant to confirm what we already know and/or experience. It is meant to make us part of a story that could not be known apart from exemplification in the lives of people in a concrete community.
Something to ponder: the word sovereignty. An exclusive right to control. What Yoder and Illich emphasize in their writings, that comes directly from the scriptures, is that God alone is sovereign. To claim, as Rome does (as the United States of America does), sovereignty, sets us up to recognize that claim, and therein become idolatrous. To claim, as classical liberalism does, that the lone individual (the self) is sovereign is idolatry.
Leo Hartshorn has written a nice summary of key points from The Politics of Jesus, reprinted here to help us understand what preceded Chapter 12, The War of the Lamb:
John Howard Yoders classic book The Politics of Jesus (Eerdmans,1972; reissued 1994) has had a profound impact on how many Christians read the Bible and understand Jesus. James Wm. McClendon, Jr., a theologian within the Anabaptist tradition, was highly influenced by the book. McClendon describes its impact as being like a second conversion. In turn, as Jims friend and pastor, I was influenced by his passion for Anabaptism and subsequently became a Mennonite.
The Politics of Jesus taught Christians how to read the Bible and Jesus politically. By that I mean it opened up a way to read Jesus as a nonviolent revolutionary who confronted the religious and political powers of his day and had an explicit social agenda grounded in a vision of Gods reign [emphasis added that agenda was jubilary -SG].
Since The Politics of Jesus was published, many others have read the Bible through the lens of the social sciences, political theory and new understandings of the social situation of first-century Palestine under Roman occupation. New studies have brought to the foreground even more political implications of the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
I have tried to compile and simplify a number of the implications of these political readings of the Gospels. These readings make it difficult to deny that Jesus and the Gospels have a social and political vision. These insights into the Gospels and Jesus provide the peacemaker and justice-seeker with a vision and model of social and political engagement.
The birth of Jesus
* Jesus birth is presented in royal images to intentionally contrast with the violent rule of Roman political leaders (Matt. 2).
* Jesus mother, Mary, proclaims his coming in the Magnificat as subverting and inverting the politics of injustice (Luke 1:46-56; a song of the anawim or poor ones).
* Jesus birth is heralded as the reign of peace and witnessed by shepherds, social outcasts (Luke 2:8-14).
The life and teachings of Jesus
* Jesus temptations in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11)
Jesus resisted the devils temptation to rule the nations, which in the context of first-century Palestine under Roman colonial domination could only be practically and politically achieved by means of violent revolution (insights from Yoder).
* Jesus preaching/teaching ministry
Jesus first hometown sermon was a definitive moment for his continuing mission (Luke 4:16-30). It was based upon Isaiah 42: 1ff. The Spirit was upon Jesus for the purpose of proclaiming good news to the poor (i.e., a suggestion of economic transformation, not simply pie in the sky), release to the captives (such as those in debtors prison), recovery of sight to the blind (i.e., resulting in the restoration of the dependent and marginalized to economic self-sufficiency and community [emphasis added]), freedom for the oppressed (i.e., the victims of injustice), and to proclaim the year of the Lords favor. Scholars suggest this last may be an allusion to the year of Jubilee, a time of restorative economic justice; see Lev. 25. Jesus ends his sermon with a prophetic challenge to ethnocentricity that almost gets him killed!
In Matthews Sermon on the Mount, which reveals some of Jesus core teachings, Jesus blessed the peacemakers (5:9) and taught love of enemies (5:43-48), as well as a way of nonviolent challenge to injustice over retaliation (5:38-42).
Jesus central teaching was the reign or kingdom of God (Matt. 4:17). This was a social and political metaphor that spoke to, among other things, a covenant, or faithful way of life among Gods people.
Jesus parables, which reflect the unjust social conditions of first century Palestine, frequently served as social commentary and critique (e.g., The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16, or The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, which uses a person from a despised social group as its hero).
Jesus taught the way of nonviolence and peace (e.g., Jesus rebuked James and Johns desire for revenge and the violent destruction of a Samaritan village, in Luke 9:51-55).
* Jesus healing ministry
Jesus made healing contact with the unclean and social outcasts (e.g., lepers). The Temple purity system kept the unclean from social interaction and in economic dependence. In his healing acts Jesus brought back into the community the socially marginalized. His healings had wider social implications.
Jesus healing freed many from financial dependence.
Jesus offered healing free from its brokerage by an unjust Temple system.
Jesus exorcism, in the symbolism of Marks gospel (5:21), points to an overcoming of Roman political oppression (i.e., pigs=the unclean; possession=physical occupation; demon=Legion=Roman military unit).
* Jesus prophetic ministry
Jesus challenged the religious and social boundaries of his society, which defined holiness as separation, by having table fellowship with tax-collectors and sinners (labels for a distinct social group of outcasts deprived of certain civil rights). This prophetic act got Jesus labeled as a social deviant, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners. Meals can be seen as a microcosm of the larger cultures views on social boundaries (whos in and whos out). Jesus act of table fellowship was a form of social protest, symbolically proclaiming that the Reign of God included the disenfranchised (Matt. 9:11-13).
Jesus challenged the purity/holiness system of his society, which ostracized those who could not observe its detailed regulations.
Jesus juxtaposed justice, mercy and faith(fulness) over against meticulous observance of ritual law (Matt. 23:23).
Jesus broke down socially constructed gender barriers by associating with women (e.g., the Samaritan woman in John 4) and having women as disciples (e.g., Mary in Luke 10:38-42).
Jesus challenged Roman occupation and tribute/allegiance to Caesar and Rome with the bigger issue of tribute/allegiance to God (Matt. 17:24-27).
Jesus prophetically critiqued the injustices of the Temple system and its elite leaders (e.g., the story of the widows mite, which must be understood in its immediate context of Jesus critique of Temple officials, who devour widows houses, and his saying on the destruction of the Temple; see Mark 12:38-13:2). Jesus questioned the Temple tax (Matt. 17:24-27). He carried out a public protest, or political street theater, in the tradition of the symbolic acts of the prophets, by overturning the tables of the moneychangers, which represented the economic injustices of the Temple system (Matt. 21:12-13). This act may have been the precipitating event of his crucifixion.
The death and resurrection of Jesus
* Jesus intentionally headed for Jerusalem, the seat of the coalition of religious and political power, to confront the injustice of the system and its leaders (Matt. 20:17-19).
* Jesus entered Jerusalem with political theater lampooning the peoples expectations of a violent, military messianic kingship by riding in on a donkey instead of a warhorse (i.e., re-enacting Zechariahs vision of a coming king who would bring peace among nations; see Zech. 9:9-10).
* When he was arrested, Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, for those who live by the sword will die by the sword (Matt. 26:51-53). Jesus could have called upon a heavenly army to protect him, but violent resistance to Rome was not on Jesus political agenda.
* Jesus was crucified as a political criminal, as an enemy of the state, between two bandits (most likely social bandits, who violently resisted economic injustices; Matt. 27:38). He was accused of political subversion: 1) refusing to pay taxes to Caesar (Luke 23:2; if we are to give to God what is Gods, as in Matt. 22:17-21, what is the implication for Caesars tribute?); 2) threatening to destroy the Temple (Matt. 26:61 and Mark13:1-2); and 3) claiming to be a messianic king (Matt. 26:63-64).
* At Jesus trial, the people are given a choice between Jesus bar Joseph, the nonviolent revolutionary, and Jesus bar Abbas, the violent revolutionary (Matt. 27:16-17).
* On the cross, a Roman political instrument of torture for revolutionaries and insurgents, Jesus identifies with the forsaken and abandoned.
* Gods resurrection of Jesus is a vindication of his life, including his way of peace and social justice.
* In Johns gospel (14:26), the resurrected Christ leaves his disciples with his way of peace, unlike the world gives (e.g., the Pax Romana, the Roman peace through violent suppression). Finally, Jesus offers his peace and breathes his Spirit, his way of life, forgiveness and peace, upon the group of disciples, the prototypical Church (John 20:19-23).
In preparation for Good Friday and Easter, as we go through Lent, we have pointed to the subject of renunciation, and we have made the claim through Illich first that renunciation is an exercise of freedom.
A while ago, I wanted my dog to go outside. My dog is a sensible being, like us. But if he is reluctant to go outside (its cold today), all I have to do is wave a biscuit in front of his face, then throw it outside, and he will follow. He is powerless to choose, moreso because he doesnt recognize he has a choice. The difference between that dog and us is that we can choose, and we are therefore inescapably moral beings.
The degree to which we are controlled by fears or by appetites once we have been shown that we can renounce them is the degree to which we might fail morally.
Everything in modern society tells us differently, because fears and appetites are marketable and we live in a society that has raised the market as an idol, from be all that you can be, to Pantene, because Im worth it, to a popular magazine entitled Self. This ideology has led to a culture, an ecology, and a personhood characterized not by choice, but by addiction. Addictions are our new rulers. The market throws a biscuit out the door, and we run outside after it.
What Yoder explains in The War of the Lamb is that Jesus three times in a row renounced the temptation to dictate and dominate. When he goes to be tempted, the temptation is political power. When the crowd cheers his entry into Jerusalem, he could have taken power, but he didnt. When he again whips up the crowd by running the bulls through the tables of the moneychangers at the Temple, he stands down. Then Jesus shows us what the renunciation of power looks like on the cross. He renounces the appetite for power; and he renounces the fear of death.
Here is Yoder from The War of the Lamb, referring to the visions of Revelation and meaning:
What Jesus renounced was thus not simply the metaphysical status of sonship but rather the untrammeled sovereign exercise of power in the affairs of that humanity amid which he came to dwell. His emptying of himself, his accepting of the form of servanthood and obedience unto death, is precisely his renunciation of lordship, his apparent abandonment of any obligation to be effective in making history move down the right track.
But the judgment of God upon this renunciation and acceptance of defeat is the declaration that this is victory. Therefore God has greatly exalted him and given him the title, which every creature will have to confess, the Lord. Lord in the earliest Christian confessions was not (as it is in so much modern piety) a label to state a believers humility or affection or devotion; it is an affirmation of his victorious relation to the powers of the cosmos [italics added]
this text affirms a philosophy of history in which renunciation and suffering are meaningful
The renunciation of the claim to govern history was not made only by the second person of the Trinity taking upon himself the demand of an eternal divine decree; it was also made by a poor, tired rabbi when he came from Galilee to Jerusalem to be rejected.
Jesus did not show us the freedom of God in his renunciation. He showed us the possibility of our own freedom, and in that showing He gave us a new being.
A question to provoke a closer reading of Yoder here: How does this explanation of renunciation relate to Yoders pacifism, his renunciation of violence?
In the first section of The War of the Lamb, Yoder critiques the idea of a thread or handle on history, by calling into question three assumptions:
1. It is assumed that the relationship of cause and effect is visible, understandable, and manageable, so that if we make our choices on the basis of how we hope society will be moved, it will be moved in that direction.
2. It is assumed that we are adequately informed to be able to set for ourselves and for all society the goal toward which we seek to move it.
3. Interlocked with these two assumptions and dependent upon them for its applicability is the further postulate that effectiveness in moving toward these goals which have been set is itself a moral yardstick.
If we look critically at these assumptions we discover that they are my no means as self-evident as they seem to be at first.
Another question to ponder: What is the significance here of the term effectiveness? Does that mean Yoder eschewed taking action in the world?