Yesterday, while I was microwaving left-over pizza for lunch, I read Robert Gundry’s incisive, critical review of Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Was Jesus’ primary aim to commit sedition against Rome? Aslan thinks so, but his arguments are put through the wringer by Gundry.
Today, for some research I am doing on Scripture and justice, I dipped into David J. Bosch’s trend-setting Transforming Mission (1991; often-recommended to me in seminary, but I only cracked the spine today). I was struck by p. 34 where he seems to be responding directly to Aslan (though Bosch’s book was published in a couple of decades ago) on the question was Jesus a political zealot?
Does this mean that God’s reign [in Jesus] is political? Certainly, though not necessarily in the modern sense of the word. We cannot apply Jesus’ ministry in a direct manner to our contemporary controversies. It is not easy to spell out how the manifestation of God’s reign in Christ can help us find the right political system or an ideal economic order or a a fair national labor policy or correct relations with foreign powers. Jesus did not address the macrostructure of his own time. To the embarrassment of many he appears to have said virtually nothing by way of criticism about the Roman masters of his day. His immediate concern is the small world of Palestine and the Jewish rather than the Roman establishment. It is wishful thinking to describe the movement he founded as a revolutionary organization for the political liberation of the Jews. He was not a Zealot. When the people try to make him king, he withdraws (Jn 6:15)….
…[I]n another sense the manifestation of God’s reign in Jesus is eminently political. To declare lepers, tax-collectors, sinners and the poor to be ‘children of God’s kingdom’ is decidedly a political statement, at least over against the Jewish establishment of the day. It expresses a profound discontent with the way things are, a fervent desire to see them changed. It certainly does not wipe out as if by magic the oppressive circumstances under which those people exist, but it brings their circumstances within the force field of God’s sovereign will and thereby relativizes them and robs them of their ultimate validity. It assures the victims of society that they are no longer prisoners of an omnipotent fate. Faith in the reality and presence of God’s reign takes the form of a resistance movement against fate and against being manipulated and exploited by others. (p. 34, Transforming Mission)