The second chapter of The Politics of Jesus cannot be skimmed over. The chapter, titled “The Kingdom Coming,” has to be understood before the reader can grasp the rest of the text. John H. Yoder uses the text of Luke’s gospel as an outline for presenting the nature of this Kingdom.
Regarding the feeding of the multitudes in Luke ix (and John vi), Yoder lays out in simple terms exactly where the kingdom of Jesus is going:
As the devil had said it would [during the 40 days of temptation in the wilderness], the distribution of bread moved the crowd to acclaim Jesus as the New Moses, the provider, the Welfare King whom they had been waiting for. His withdrawl from their acclamation is the occasion for his first statement (in all of the Gospels) that his ministry was to be one of suffering and that his disciples would needs be ready to bear with him that cross.. . .
The first reference of the cross is already most clearly in its context behind the reference to the crown. Not only when Jesus says so . . . but also in his own vision of his ministry and in his response to the beckoning acclamation, the cross and the crown are alternatives. He begins to be estranged not only from the Jewish leaders, but also from the crowds, because the messianity he proposes to them is not to their tastes; yet what he proposes is not withdrawal into the desert or into mysticism; it is a renewed messianic claim, a mountaintop consultation with Moses and Elijah, and a march to Jerusalem. The cross is beginning to loom not as a ritually prescribed instrument of propitiation but as the political alternative to both insurrection and quietism.1
Misunderstanding the very nature of Jesus’s kingship was a major problem for the crowds listening and following their expected Prophet (Jo. vi.14), as well as for those who would be called the Apostles. Not only misunderstanding, but even outright rejection. Jesus made very clear to the disciples that this was about him suffering and dying (and rising from the dead), and that anyone who would be the King’s servants would suffer just the same.
Did you catch Yoder’s mention of the third way? The cross is the alternative to “insurrection and quietism.” That is nonresistance. The cross is our weapon as disciples, and we can never lay it down.
Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. (Mk. ix.31-32)
Yoder earlier mentioned that none of what he would present in The Politics of Jesus was new thought. He was essentially bringing together various points and arguments made throughout history and churning out a case for the relevance of Jesus ethics today. This work, first published in the 1970’s, was not a new perspective but an emphatic push for Christians to make Jesus relevant once again within Christianity. And I am convinced that the mainstream evangelical Christian body today (2009), as well as the major Reformed body (who I am hearing more and more talk about evangelicals in the third person for various reasons), either misunderstand or outright reject the nature of Jesus’s kingship, the nature of the Kingdom, and the relevance of Jesus’s clear teachings and commands.
Later Yoder emphasized the point:
What matters is the quality of life to which the disciple is called. The answer is that to be a disciple is to share in that style of life of which the cross is the culmination.2
The cross is not meger burdens in life. The cross is quite clearly suffering and death. Particularly in the US, with so many Christians wanting a Christian nation, or to go back to the Christian foundations. But that would be a failure to understand the Kingdom. They are like Peter, reprimanding Jesus for setting up the Kingdom the wrong way, discounting the suffering, unpopular nature as weak and not befitting the King of the world.
In the next post we are going to stay in the second chapter, moving forward as Yoder expands the argument through Luke. I could go further in this portion (and Yoder does, so I suggest going through it slowly), but I believe the next part will make things very practical. We’re going to talk about the sword, and the incident in the garden when Jesus was betrayed and arrested. This is extremely important to get a handle on, and may surprise the majority of conservative Christians. In fact, I’m sure it will upset a good number of them. But the issue will not be with Yoder’s explanation. The explanation is no revelation at all. Radical and revolutionary, for sure. But that’s been true since Jesus said what he said and did what he did.
1 John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), 42-43.
2 Ibid., 45.