As we pass through this week between Palm Sunday and Easter, we are confronted with several of the aspects of the “Good News” that seem, on the surface, to be not-so-good. Christian tradition presents us with an ever-escalating series of confrontations between Jesus and the various authorities within the city of Jerusalem – not to mention strained interactions with his own disciples – as the narrative moves toward the day we have come to know as “Good Friday”. We have – according to the dominant traditional interpretation – an all-powerful God walking around in a mortal man’s body who escalates his poking & prodding of the earthly authorities with increasing determination in order to set them up for the ultimate con game – to provoke them into beating the snot out of him, mocking him, and then killing him. Because only in so doing could this God-man bring about the salvation of the world (or at least whatever portion of the world our various traditions teach us get to be in that “saved” category).
In any case, as evangelists we are traditionally called to go around telling this story to anyone who will listen – that God sent his Son on a suicide mission, which made it necessary for Jesus to willingly set aside his infinite store of power and glory in order to appear as a wise prophet in a backwater corner of a decadent empire and go around saying and doing things designed to piss off the political and religious authorities in his homeland to the point that they’d give him what he secretly wanted – a criminal’s death.
But that is only part of the story, right? We’re also supposed to tell everyone the other bit – the part where this God-man comes back to life once the blood atonement is completed, and then goes back to Heaven in order to get ready for his second coming – and when that happens, there won’t be any willful divestment of power – no, he’s coming with a sword and an army and he’s going to kick ass and take names – and anybody who doesn’t choose to profess belief in the atoning power of the blood he shed the first time around is in serious eternal trouble.
So to sum it up – Jesus came as a sly provocative wise-man weakling the first time, preaching blessings on the meek and healing those on the margins and the outskirts, preaching non-violence and humility and a vision of a Kindom where the power structure of the world would be turned upside down – but that was mostly just a ruse in order to dupe us into killing him so he could use his shed blood to save us. BUT – don’t worry folks, someday the REAL Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, is coming back in a wave of powerful conquering violence that will make our mortal attempts at violence look like child’s play. And if you ain’t on his side when that happens, oh, woe unto you.
Maybe that’s the way it turns out. Who am I to say? But in my experience, telling the story that way might scare people into converting to Christianity out of fear, but it does very little to build authentic relationships and heal broken hearts and souls.
On the other hand, what if maybe God is in fact rather weak? What if it isn’t just a ruse? What if the real power in the universe is the power of powerlessness? What if John Caputo is onto something?
“On the classical account of strong theology, Jesus was just holding back his divine power in order to let his human nature suffer. He freely chose to check his power because the Father had a plan to redeem the world with his blood. … That is not the weakness of God that I am here defending. God – the event harbored by the name of God – is present at the crucifixion, as the power of the powerlessness of Jesus, in and as the protest against the injustice that rises up from the cross, in and as the words of forgiveness, not a deferred power that will be visited upon one’s enemies at a later time. God is in attendance as the weak force of the call that cries out from Calvary and calls across the epochs, that cries out from every corpse created by every cruel and unjust power. The logos of the cross is a call to renounce violence, not to conceal and defer it and then, in a stunning act that takes the enemy by surprise, to lay them low with real power, which shows the enemy who really has the power.”
– John D. Caputo, The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event, p44
If there’s anything to what Caputo is saying, how might that change the way we share the Gospel? Is there ‘good news’ in the notion that God is weak?
I’d love to have your thoughts on this, folks. Push back. I’m just pondering here, so a conversation would be VERY welcome.