I don't have to be an oppressive, insecure, offensive fundie to be a Christian. There's a way to follow God in the way of Jesus and win the world with the original message of Good News.
I hope to show that this is why Jesus calls us to meekness in this Beatitude: "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5)
Jesus the humble and meek, who climbed down out of heaven to come and build a home in our neighborhood, is the answer for both the conflict in the Middle East and the wars fighting within every human heart. Jesus wants his people, his apprentices, to win--to see people changed and converted to his ways--but the methods of winning are just as important as the win itself, because they can't be separated. We win with meekness.A month or so ago I finished Anathea Portier-Young's Apocalypse Against Empire. As part of a larger project contextualizing Jewish apocalyptic writing, Portier-Young provides an approachable yet deeply insightful and precise analysis of life in Jerusalem under imperial Seleucid rule during the years preceding the Maccabean rebellion. I turned over the last page of the volume with a list authors to chase down and my understanding of the literary and cultural context into which Jesus stepped some a century or more later radically redefined.
(Hugh Halter, Sacrilege)
The fifth chapter of Apocalypse Against Empire, "Seleucid State Terror,"did much of the heavy-lifting in reshaping my understanding of Jesus' context. Portier-Young systematically reviews the archaeological evidence for and the cultural meaning of state sponsored massacres, murders in the home, abductions (for the slave market), and plundering of the temple. Against the backdrop of subjugated Jewish identity Portier-Young establishes in chapter 3, "Interaction and Identity in Seleucid Judea: 188-173 BCE,"this litany of state-sponsored violence (physical and otherwise) begins to help me understand the way in which Jesus' contemporaries--under the oppressive rule of another empire--may have understood themselves, their history, and their oppressors.
Enter Jesus. Jesus proclaiming good news from God about a new kingdom arriving. Jesus disrupting social structures that separated the honorable working poor from beggars, bandits, and those who survived outside the official market in goods and services. In healing the sick, purifying the unclean, exorcising the demonized, Jesus brought the outcasts back into the company of good and honest society.
Without a doubt, Jesus sparked hopes that God was finally going to intervene and set up a utopian society, one in which God truly dwelled in Zion and all the (oppressing) nations came and brought tribute to Jerusalem. (We have no doubt about this because John's Gospel confirms in 6.15).
The first few lines of Jesus' kick-off sermon initially seem to confirm this: "Blessed are the poor"--"Amen!" the people thought, "it's time the good and godly poor were visited by God's blessed intervention on their behalf. Maybe this new kingdom will involve less imperial taxation." Jesus continues, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." And again the people think, "Amen! We've mourned the ruin of David's kingdom for nearly six hundred years. Now Herod presumptuously builds another stand-in temple for us, but what we long for is God to return and set up God's own temple. God, do, come and comfort your people!"
But just as Jesus' followers reach for the pitchforks and scythes to follow their new leader to the seat of power up in Jerusaelm, Jesus says, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."