I run the risk of appearing a groupie by offering a second“The long slow victory of gnostic over catholic christianity” link in a few months to an interview with John Dominic Crossan but it seems so relevant to our celebration of Christ the King. Here he is, comparing the imagery surrounding the Imperial cult with the titles and understanding the earliest followers used for Jesus.
Today, if you talked to most people and said there was a human being in the first century who was called Divine Son of God, God from God, Lord and Redeemer, and Liberator and Savior of the world, 99.9% of people would say it’s Jesus we are talking about. But Caesar Augustus was called all of those titles before Jesus was ever born. Those were his titles.
If you are talking to a Jew at that time, you might say Jesus is the Christ, and the Jew would understand that means the Messiah. But if you were talking to a pagan, Jesus Christ almost sounds like Mr. and Mrs. Christ’s little boy Jesus. But when you say Jesus Christ is Lord, than these pagans are going to understand what you’re saying. Whoever this Jesus Christ is, you’re claiming that person is supposed to be running the universe.When he says Jesus Christ is Lord, that is another way of saying, as Jesus did, that the Kingdom of God has already arrived on earth. One speaks directly to Jews and raises the issue of whether the world should be violent or non-violent. But Jesus Christ is Lord speaks to pagans–and it also raises the question of whether this is a violent or non-violent opposition to Caesar.
What we don’t catch is that the language of Paul is high treason, making a claim for Jesus that is ridiculous. Caesar was running the world, and he controlled the Roman Empire and brought peace to the Mediterranean–all of that at least makes sense because he is divine.
But Jesus? This nobody? Who was crucified on a Roman cross? He is actually the Lord of the universe? It’s either very stupid or you’re talking about a radically different type of world, a different type of God. You’re not doing fine-tuning–lowering the taxes, lessening the oppressive nature of the Roman Empire. Paul is saying that the whole system is not the will of God.
It’s not just long-forgotten empires that come under the Christian critique–it’s every way we apportion power, every way we subordinate peace to the violent pursuit of political ends, even when those ends are good.