Crassus and the Appian Way

(A slightly reworked rerun. I was digging around in my archieves and decided to bump it up.)

Marcus Licinius Crassus

I promise you a new Rome.
I promise you a new Empire.
-Marcus Licinius Crassus

Went down the road to Damascus,
The road to Mandalay
Met the ghost of Caesar
On the Appian Way
He said, It’s hard to stop this binging
Once you get a taste
But the road to empire
Is a bloody, stupid waste
And it’s a long road out of Eden
-The Eagles

And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand…
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be king?

It shall not be so among you.

The Appian Way.
The Great Road to Rome.
The Road of the Roman Triumphs.
“All roads lead to Rome.”
I hope not.
I believe there is another way.
A better way than the Appian Way.
The King’s Highway.

In 73 b.c. a former slave and gladiator, the famous Spartacus, led a rebellion of escaped slaves against the Roman Republic. A prominent senator, Marcus Licinius Crassus, raised an army at his own expense, became their general and two years later led them into battle and crushed Spartacus and his slave rebellion. Crassus was the wealthiest man in the Roman Empire. Fabulously wealthy. Recently Forbes magazine published a list of the wealthiest people in history—Crassus was in the top ten, wealthier than any of the Roman emperors, Egyptian pharaohs or European kings. Forbes estimated Crassus’s wealth in contemporary dollars at $170 billion! Of course Crassus’s wealth was built on the backs of slaves, and thus his motivation to crush Spartacus and the slave rebellion.

After Crassus defeated Spartacus the senator was given a triumph on the Appian Way — the Roman victory parade. The road was lined with 6,000 crosses! Upon each cross was a crucified slave. The message was clear: This was how Rome dealt with threats to their interests. This event as much as any established crucifixion as the symbol of Roman ruthlessness when it came to suppressing their enemies. Later Crassus would finance the rise to power of an impoverished young man with political aspirations by the name of Julius Caesar. Goodbye Republic, hello Empire.

A hundred years roll by.

It’s a Sunday in Jerusalem at festival time.

No one knew it then but this Sunday would be remembered throughout the ages. It would come to be known as Palm Sunday.

On that Sunday a ragged band of Galileans who had come to believe that a carpenter turned prophet from the backwater village of Nazareth was the anointed Liberator-King of Israel. They were coming with him to the festival in Jerusalem in the hope of crowning him king and launching the revolution that would overthrow the Roman occupiers and the Herodian collaborators.

Their attempt at giving Jesus a kind of triumphal entry into Jerusalem was comical by Roman standards. No imperial banners, only palm branches. No assembling of the elite, just rural peasants from Galilee. No white stallion, but a donkey. A donkey! Surely this was a farce and a parody and not real triumph!

I like to imagine myself with a time machine.

I go back to Jerusalem for the Triumphal Entry of Jesus.

I find a Roman soldier watching this comedy from the walls of the Antonio Fortress. I tell him this:

2,000 years from now billions of people will commemorate this event and it will be known to the whole world as Palm Sunday—a celebration of the King of Kings.

He falls over laughing.

But it’s true.

Beginning with Palm Sunday, the events of Holy Week are in reality a week long coronation of Jesus as King of Israel…King of Kings…King of the world. But in the mystery of God it is an ironic coronation, even a macabre coronation.

Think about it.

Consider the macabre coronation of Christ:

His acclamation is a mockery, his scepter is a reed, his crown is made of thorns, the purple robe is placed upon a scourged back, the cry of his subjects is not, long live the king!, but, crucify him!, his royal procession is the road to his execution, and his final coronation is by crucifixion.

This is how the Kingdom of God comes…in a way no one could have imagined.

Not the Appian Way.
But the Via Dolorosa.
Not the way of a king crucifying his enemies.
But the way that leads to a king being crucified…
And winning the battle.

The crazy, counter-intuitive wisdom of God!

None of the rulers of this age understood this wisdom, if they had they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. -1 Corinthians 2:8

To win a war you have to kill your enemies. You can’t win a war by dying. But Jesus did.

There’s a lone soldier on the cross
Smoke pouring out of a boxcar door
You didn’t believe it, you didn’t think it could be done
But in the final end he won the war
After losing every battle
-Bob Dylan

The Roman Way, the Imperial Way, The Appian Way…
Of establishing a kingdom is to exalt yourself and crucify your enemies.
This is what the Roman Empire did.

And it’s exactly what the people of Israel wanted their Messiah to do—they wanted their Liberator-King to take up the sword, exalt himself and crucify Israel’s enemies. But that wouldn’t change the world…that would only change the name of the empire. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Jesus didn’t come to simply give the same old empires of oppression a new name.

That wouldn’t change anything…and Jesus came to change the world.

To liberate the world from it’s bloody obsession with violence-based power.

Jesus came to start the revolution of love and grace.

Jesus came to inaugurate the liberating and saving empire of God.

It wouldn’t come down the Appian Way.

It would come down the Via Dolorosa.

It didn’t come by self-exaltation, hating your enemies and destroying all who get in your path.

It came by Jesus humbling himself, loving his enemies, choosing the cross, and trusting God for resurrection, vindication and the final triumph of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jason Upton is right, this is the true King’s Way.

There is a road
That lead to peace
That leads to life
But few will follow
We’re at the crossroad
Which way will we go?
There is not today a more holy way
Than the steps that lead me to the cross
Where my will can’t be the priority
And these crowns I’ve gained I count as loss
When I hear the Spirit say
That this is the true King’s way
-Jason Upton