Jesus' Life and Jesus' Death
Cafe Rozella, second asiago bagel, 14 ounces into a 20-ounce soy latte....
Been thinking a lot about the Crossan quote I posted a couple days ago. It comes in the discussion of an extended thesis about early Christianity coming in two broad flavors. One flavor emphasizes the life and actions of Jesus (which seems to be dominant in the Jerusalem church), and the other emphasizes Jesus' death and the salvific moment there (a la Paul and the Pauline churches scattered throughout the Empire). In the earliest months and years following Jesus' death there arose these two different ways of looking at Jesus and discipleship.
The thing is, this seems so natural, so obvious! Growing up Christian (however unconventional or struggling of a Christian I was), I seemed to preternaturally sense this division, this fork in the road, this bi-lingualism in the tradition, in the church. Into my early teens, I already sensed the tension between the Pauline supernaturalism and emphasis on the death and resurrection, and the more communitarian struggle to emulate Jesus' life and teachings. Probably like many my age, I was beat over the head with the teaching that salvation rests only in Jesus' death and resurrection, and confession of agreement in those. Emulation of Jesus as an example, as the radical upstart of a community that stands in contrast to the world around us was downplayed. It was the blood of the lamb or damnation, and whatever I could glean from Jesus' life apart from his being the Savior was cute but hardly salvific.
Still, persistent inside me was an awareness of the depth of insight in holding up Jesus' life. But what was genuinely threatening was the difference such an emphasis would make. Jesus' life was one of radical inclusion - different from the exclusionary "salvation" qualified by Jesus' blood. Jesus' life was one of public activism and political resistance - different from the personal and private effects of being "saved". Jesus' life was one of active and daring nonviolence - different from the institutionalized violence of nations and armies. Jesus' life was one of profound personal transformation, and giving up of control - different from a Christianity that reinforces people's preconceived prejudices and that seeks to control people under the guise of setting them free.
Emphasizing Jesus' life would encourage a dynamic and vastly different Christianity, than emphasizing Jesus' death. This was obvious within a few years of Jesus' death, and it was still obvious to a young and uneducated boy nearly 2000 years later. I wonder if it is just part of Christianity now, this tension between the earthly life of Jesus and the ultimate claims about his death.
And, of course, there's always the question of power: who is it benefiting from the telling of one version of the story or the other?
Thankfully, no matter how sanitized or prejudiced our Christianity is, there is indelible within it a note of subversion, a hint of resistance, a dissonance of waiting transformation.