The Bible and Civil Disobedience / Divine Obedience – Part 2 of 3
(Excerpted from Ched Myers, Sojourners May 1983)
[Note: Part 2 focuses on the life and ministry of Jesus]
Call to Worship
L: "The kin-dom of God is among you." (Luke 17:21)
P: Let us gather together and search it out.
L: "Your kin-dom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:10)
P: Let us seek to do the will of God and, in doing so, welcome God's kin-dom.
"Lamb of God"
The singular model for civil disobedience for the Christian is the ministry of Jesus, much of which can be understood as calculated confrontation with the socio-political powers of his day in two phases: 1) his ministry in Galilee and 2) his final days in Jerusalem.
Mark's gospel presents us with a Jesus who systematically assaults the social order of first-century Jewish Palestine.
• Jesus takes on the rigid social caste system of clean and unclean by calling a tax collector into his discipleship community, touching a leper, and sharing table fellowship with a variety of outcasts (Mark 1 and 2);
• He attacks the symbolic center of synagogue Judaism, the Sabbath, by healing a man's hand in violation of Sabbath laws (Mark 3);
• He challenges the authority of kinship regulations (Mark 3:31-35) and the claim of the wealthy and educated to their social and religious status (Mark 10:17-23;12:28-34).
In each case, the act is public and carefully planned to address the various aspects of the social world in which Jesus lived. Jewish religious law was the law of the land at that time. There was no "secular realm," only a foreign colonizer (Rome). Thus, Jesus' sequence of action is a dramatic and protracted "civil disobedience campaign" challenging the foundation of Jewish social order.
Jesus' campaign is finally directed at the center of power, Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-56) where he carries out another sequence of highly symbolic and politically crafted actions beginning with his entrance on a donkey and lament over Jerusalem's imminent demise (Luke 19:28-44). Then comes Jesus' most dramatic and provocative action – the "cleansing"of the temple (Luke 19:45-48).
The temple was the political and economic heart of Jewish social formation. To take action to shut down its commerce completely and denigrate its operation was a bold interpretation of the prophetic tradition of civil disobedience.
Civil disobedience is most potent when it provokes a crisis of authority. Those in power are outraged at Jesus' audacity to undermine their legitimacy and assert the new authority of the reign of God. They arrest him, bring him to trial, collaborate with the occupying Roman authorities to convict him and impose a form of capital punishment reserved for political dissidents – the cross.
Even that doesn't end Jesus' challenge. After his execution by the authorities God raises Jesus. "Resurrection was illegal. When the state puts you to death, you are supposed to stay dead." (Tom Cordaro, To Wake the Nation).
Silence (about the time of three slow, deep breaths)
How does Myers' view of Jesus intersect with your understandings of Jesus? Who are the authorities today needing to be challenged by those called to nonviolent direct action?
(Closing in unison) God, grant all of us the strength to reject despair so that our imaginations are available to the great ministry of nonviolent action.
"For the Healing of the Nations"