In a previous post the issue of Jesus’ opposition to patriarchy and pyramidal hierarchies the issue was raised of how the order of the kingdom interrupts and overturns oppressive social conventions. Does the order proclaimed by Jesus and witnessed to in the church supplant hierarchical social orders of oppression with new social orders of egalitarian equality?
The answer to such a way of putting things must clearly be no. The apocalyptic nature of the order of the resurrection defies any such notions of social engineering being the substance of Jesus’ message. So, how then should we characterize the theopolitical message of Jesus as it regards social relations?
The fundamental character of Jesus’ theopolitics revolves around the way they shatter the polarities which define the normal oppositions within social relations. In other words, the order of the resurrection transfigures rather than merely inverts the hegemonic and counter-hegemonic binaries between oppressor and oppressed. That is why the order of the Triune God is apocalyptic, miraculous, a scandal. Alan Lewis got this dynamic exactly right in his book, Between Cross and Resurrection in a passage I have quoted before:
“What damage could be done to the mighty structures of the empire by one who gave Caesar his due, who scorned the bigotry which hated an infidel and punished the ungodly, and who pictured a kingdom of freedom, peace, and love in which the distinction between friend and foe would lose all meaning? Yet, with their unseeing eyes, the Romans had rightly perceived a radical and dangerous subversion — with clearer intuition, it seems, than those who still characterize the preaching of Jesus as spiritual and therefore not political. What, in fact, could be more ‘political,’ a more complete and basal challenge to the kingdoms of this world, to its generals and its lords, both to those who hold power and to those who would seize it, than one who says that his kingdom is not of this world, and yet prays that the kingdom of his Father will come and his will be done on earth. This is an aspiration for the world more revolutionary, a disturbance of the status quo more seismic, an allegiance more disloyal, a menace more intimidating, than any program which simply meets force with force and matches loveless injustice with loveless vengeance. Here is a whole new ordering of human life, as intolerable to insurrectionists as to oppressors. It promises that forgiveness, freedom, love, and self-negation, in all their feeble ineffectiveness, will prove more powerful and creative than every system and every countersystem which subdivides the human race into rich and poor, comrades and enemies, insiders and outsiders, allies and adversaries. What could an earthly power, so in love with power as to divinize it in the person of its emperor, do with such dangerous powerlessness but capture and destroy it? It could change everything were it not extinguished, and speedily.” (p. 49-50)
John Howard Yoder understood this in a radical way when he engaged the texts of the household codes in the New Testament and classified them as “revolutionary subordination.” The message of the gospel is not simply a message of equality, let alone the notions of liberal democratic, rights-based equality that inform our contemporary imagination. Rather the message of the gospel seizes both the oppressed and the superordinate, calling them both to the message of mutual subordination. The message of the gospel is, properly speaking, not an egalitarian proclamation of equality, but an apocalyptic interruption of mutual inequality.