Revolutionary Jesus


Revolutionary Jesus
Brian Zahnd

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know, we all want to change the world

—The Beatles

The revolution of Christ is the radical alternative to the unimaginative politicism of the religious Right and Left.

Jesus is not apolitical. Far from it. Jesus is intensely political! But Jesus has his own politics — and they cannot be made to serve the interests of some other political agenda. As Eugene Peterson says, “The gospel of Jesus Christ is more political than anyone imagines, but in a way that no one guesses.”

The politics of Jesus are set forth in the Sermon on the Mount — and neither the Republican nor the Democratic party have any intention of seriously adopting those politics! They simply cannot. The politics of the Sermon on the Mount are antithetical to the political interests of a military and economic superpower.

The problem with both the Christian Right and the Christian Left is that they reduce “Christian” to the diminished role of religious adjective in service to the all-important political noun. But as Karl Barth taught us, God cannot serve some other interest, God can only rule. …

Conventional politics is a contest to gain the use of coercive force. But Jesus rejects this method. In the politics of Jesus the world will be changed by non-coercive love or not at all. It’s not the task of the church to change the world by legislative force. It’s the task of the church to be the world changed by Christ. This is revolutionary in a way that conventional politics never can be. …

The church doesn’t need to enforce this revolution, the church only needs to live it. To those who will dare to adopt the politics of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city built upon a hill cannot be hid.” (Matthew 5:14)

This revolution is nothing like the American Revolution with its musket-toting minutemen or the French Revolution with its bloody guillotines. This revolution was played out in the Book of Acts as small bands of people learned to live under the revolutionary reign of Jesus Christ, so much so that it was said of them, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” (Acts 17:6–7) That’s the revolution we are to belong to!

Today at Word of Life things feel revolutionary again. I like that. I began my journey with Jesus as a revolutionary Christian and the revolutionary aspects of discipleship may be what I most needed to recover after being domesticated by a conservatism committed to maintaining the status quo.

But this also means our message feels a bit dangerous. We talk about Jesus and the kingdom of God in a way that doesn’t seem safe. Because we make it clear there is no easy fit between the American way and the Jesus way, we make people uneasy. And people made uneasy with their assumptions can become angry and lash out.

Sometimes we have to put up with rumors and innuendos directed our way — subtle or not so subtle suggestions that we have abandoned the faith. Of course, what we have done is to abandon an Americanized faith in search of an apostolic faith. And because an apostolic faith is characterized by the radical forgiveness of Jesus, we forgive our detractors and press on. It can be painful enduring the sting of undeserved criticism, but it’s worth it. It’s worth enduring some pain to find the Cana where Jesus is still turning water into wine.

Water To Wine, pp.46-47, 49-50