The Good News of Jesus is a politically subversive proclamation…at least it was in its first generation.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about United States politics of today, so you can take a breath.
I listened to The Bible Project Podcast episode “Honor-Shame Culture and the Gospel” yesterday and it reminded me of two illustrations I drew for a sermon in 2017.
First, here is what captured my imagination from the podcast. Tim Mackie quoted Michael Gorman’s book Apostle of the Crucified Lord and shared this image and quote in the show notes:
“In the [Roman] hierarchical arrangement, power was concentrated at the top… At the pinnacle was the emperor. Beneath him were the senators, then the equestrians, a class of high-ranking military and political figures, then the decurions, aristocrats with land and other forms of wealth but only local political power. Supporting this governing class was a network of ‘retainers,’ that is, political and religious officials (priests, government functionaries) who kept the machinery of power running and attended to the needs of the elite… This entire group comprised about 3 percent of the population. Further down the ‘tower’ were those of some means but little or no political power, like merchants and successful artisans. They were not like what Westerners call ‘middle-class,’ though they did exist in the middle. They constituted anywhere from 5-15 percent of the populace…. The remaining 85 percent consisted of working lower class slaves and free persons including artisans, craftsmen, merchants, and below them the working poor and day laborers. At the very bottom were the impure and the expendables, essentially those without any status, wealth, or skills to contribute value to those above them: widows, orphans, prisoners, beggars, or those with disabilities. You can see from this that for the vast majority of the population, the main priority was simply survival.” — Michael Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters, 13-14.
Tim went on to discuss how the Good News of Rome was that Caesar, who considered himself the Son of God, had brought peace and prosperity to the world through the Roman Empire.
Heralds would enter a village and proclaim this good news.
The only problem is that this properity was only for a few. It was built through oppression and domination.
It looked like this:
Look at the proclamation that the apostles of Jesus brought to the cities of the Roman Empire:
Seen through this lens, it is clear that the Good News of Jesus was an announcement that the world can be different.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the weak. The Kingdom belongs to you.”
Jesus touched the expendables and gave equal honor to everyone on the human hierarchy. Jesus leveled the playing field and proclaimed that ALL people matter to God and deserve to be loved.
Jesus proclaimed that there is only one God, it isn’t Caesar, and that you can’t serve both God and Mammon (wealth and power).
Jesus commanded only one thing: Love one another.
This message was a threat to the power structures of Rome.
It was a treasonous proclamation that was punishable by crucifixion.
The great irony of human history is that the Good News of Jesus, through its absorption into the Roman Empire, quickly became the Empire itself and used the same tactics to spread the “Good News” to the world…at the end of a sword.
So, what is the Good News for today?
This is the key question that disciples of Jesus must work out within our own context.
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