the politics of jesus (yoder): entry 3

the third movement in the gospel of luke (skipping over jesus’ amazing mental skills and confrontation with his parents) begins with john the baptist (JTB) in the wilderness around the jordan river.  if you’ve never been there, you can’t appreciate how brown, mosquito/fly ridden, and dry the wilderness around the jordan river is.  its ugly.  and it is here, that this cousin of jesus begins to baptize people with the baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins.

when people come out to see him, he first calls them a brood of vipers.  i like that.  he doesn’t tell them anything that they want to hear.  he just comes out and says what he thinks.  the people’s response?  what should we do then?  and then JTB, in prophetic response, says what jesus will later say to these very same people.

“‘whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’  tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, ‘teacher, what shall we do?’  and he said to them, ‘collect no more than you are authorized to do.’  soldiers asked him, ‘and we, what shall we do?’  and he said to them, ‘do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.'”

this is a jubilee vision.  everything being made equal, and everyone having exactly what he needs.  no more extortion.  no more hoarding.  no more extra taxes.  live rightly with one another.

rob bell talks about the baptism of jesus as a confirmation by three witnesses that jesus is a rabbi.  brian mclaren says he is a prophet.  either way, something significant happens when jesus is baptized.  john, a prophet, recognizes jesus as the promised one.  then the holy spirit descends like a dove on jesus.  and God says ‘you are my beloved son, with you i am well pleased.’  this is an allusion to two prophesies made about jesus, one in psalms, and one in isaiah.

“i will tell of the decree:  the lord said to me, ‘you are my son; today i have begotten you.” (psalm 2.7)

“behold my servant, whom i uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; i have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” (isaiah 42.1)

the first passage comes from a statement about the king.  the second about God’s servant.

yoder says, “if the double allusion is clearly intended, this is then an explicit merging of of the themes of enthronement (Ps. 2) and suffering servanthood (Isa. 42).  be that as it may, with or without explicit messianic cross-reference, we certainly have to do here with the conferring of a mission in history.  ‘thou art my son’ is not the definition or accreditation of a metaphysically defined status of sonship; it is the summons to a task.  jesus is commissioned to be, in history, in palestine, the messianic son and servant, the bearer of the goodwill and the promise of God.  this mission is then further defined by the testing into which jesus moves immediately.” (yoder, p. 30)

it isn’t by accident that luke immediately, before writing of the temptation, writes down jesus’ genealogy through joseph, his father “(as was supposed)”.  he writes this to point to several significant relatives of jesus: david, joseph, abraham, and adam.  jesus is a new king (david), a new savior of his people (joseph), establishing a new covenant (abraham), and the second adam, being good as God created adam in the garden.  these characters, these relatives, would have been significant to the readers of luke, as they should be to us today.

the first temptation starts with an allusion to what God said to him at the baptism.  “if you are the son of God, then…” do this or that or the other thing.  “the ‘son of God’ in psalm 2:7 is the king; all the options laid before jesus by the tempter are ways of being king” (yoder, 30).  the devil just takes what God says about jesus and turns it against him.  he tests him with making rocks into bread, because jesus has been fasting for 40 days, or so it seems that is the reason.  yoder explains the first temptation much better than i can, so here he is again:

“luke’s report of the testing begins with the economic option.  the spiritual filter through which we are now used to reading has dealt with the attraction of this temptation as a purely personal and carnal one. jesus was hungry: would he by miracle abuse his omnipotence selfishly to feed himself?  but one does not break a fast of forty days with crusty bread, certainly not with a whole field of boulder-sized loaves.  the option here, suggested or reinforced by jesus’ own renewed sensitivity to the pangs of hunger, was that his messianity would be expressed by his providing a banquet for his followers.  that this is no idle imagination, the later story was to demonstrate.  feed the crowds and you shall be king” (yoder, p. 31).

jesus responds to this temptation with another biblical reference, and in luke it omits the second half of the verse. he simply says, “man shall not live by bread alone.”  he would do a miracle involving bread, but this was not the time.

the second temptation involves another allusion to the passage in psalms.  the devil moves from 2:7 to 2:8 and invites him to take control of all of the kingdoms of the world, as God promised to the king in psalms 2:8.  this is is a socio-political temptation, based on a promise of kingdoms and power on earth.  jesus simply has to bow his knee and worship the devil and he will have all the political power that man could ever want.  yoder proposes that the temptation was really whether jesus would bow to the “idolatrous character of political power hunger and nationalism” (yoder, p. 32).  this is jesus’ chance to put israel back on the map, as their king, with all the power in the world, thus redeeming them from the oppression that they have been under for most of the last 500 years.  quite a temptation.  jesus response?  “you shall worship the lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”  he knows earthly power is worthless without service to God.  that is his priority.

the last temptation is the most interesting one.  its a temptation to come in the vain of malachi 3:14 to come “suddenly to his temple to purify the sons of Levi.”  the devil reminds him that the psalms tell him that he will not be injured and that angels will come and save him.  yoder talks about how the mishna has prescriptions for how to execute the death penalty involving the pinnacle of temple.

“niels hyldahl… concludes that being thrown down from a tower in the temple wall into the kidron valley, followed by a stoning, if necessary, to bring death, was teh prescribed penalty for blasphemy.  the testing then would mean that jesus was tempted to see himself as taking on himself the penalty for his claims to divine authority, yet being miraculously saved from the consequences… it is the quasi-blasphemous claim to divine kingship which underlies the testing… if we seek at all to reconstruct what might have been conceived as a concrete human possibility, in jesus’ testing of the meaning of his mission, would not an unexpected apparition from above have been the most self-evident way for the messenger of the covenant [to come] in the words of malachi?… then we see jesus contemplating the role of religious reformer, heavenly messenger, appearing unheralded from above to set things right” (yoder, p. 32-33).

this is a temptation that jesus faced several other times in his life, and it seems that his answer, “you shall not put the lord your God to the test” was his answer to this temptation.  when he was tempted to have angels come and take him off the cross, he faced the very same temptation.  but, jesus is doing something different than the people expect.  he’s not going to use his signs and wonders to gain the power that the world can give.  he’s got something else in mind.  and now he’s going to let us in on that secret.


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