Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Acceptance of Enmity

In Jakob Van Bruggen's insightful book, Jesus the Son of God: The Gospel as Message, he paints a picture of Jesus as one who accepted the "path of rejection" which forced itself upon him, a choice which Van Bruggen calls "the acceptance of enmity." His insights are especially relevant in light of this week being the traditional Passion Week (or "Holy Week"). 

Van Bruggen writes:
    The actual acceptance of this enmity can be seen in the peculiar way in which Jesus travels through Palestine. His journeys can be viewed as evasive movements that lead in the direction of the leaders who are waiting to kill him.  
    On the one hand he often evades his enemies. When the Pharisees begin to keep a closer eye on him because of the many people who begin to follow him, he retreats to Galilee (John 4:1-2, 43-44). Later, on several occasions in Galilee, he escapes the growing hostility (Luke 4:28-30; Matt. 12:14-16), and once he even goes across the northern border to the neighboring country for a time (Matt. 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-37); the result is that his opponents often have to travel to remote regions to search for him. When the plans to kill him assume an increasingly more definite shape, he goes to the Feast of Tabernacles, not with the crowds but more or less incognito (John 7:10-14). And during the final months he retreats once more from Judea to the mountains of Transjordan and later to mountains of Judea (John 10:40-42; 11:54).   
    On the other hand, despite all sorts of evasions he always comes back into the public eye and always moves again toward his enemies. He postpones the escalation of the confrontation, but he does not make himself inaccessible. On the contrary, in the end he enters Jerusalem amidst cheering crowds, can be found daily in the temple (which for him is as dangerous as a robbers' den), and finally surrenders himself to the servants of the Sanhedrin.
    Typical of Jesus' behavior is the way he once reacted to the threat that Herod Antipas wanted to kill him. He was in Perea, the tetrarch's territory. Jesus left a few days later, but not to escape death. His goal was Jerusalem--because that was the proper place for a prophet to be killed (Luke 13:31-35).
    This combination of withdrawal and head-on encounters with the enemy indicates that Jesus does not avoid the consequences of hostility but insists on following the path to arrest and death according to his own time frame. He also hints more than once at having his own schedule, and speaks of "his hour" or "his time" which is yet to come (John 7:30; 8:20; 12:23; 13:1; 17:1).
    ...A comparison can certainly be made between the attitude people often assume toward prophets and righteous people, and their attitude toward Jesus.  Jesus' own position, however, is different from that of the defenseless prophets and the powerless righteous. We see this in the fact that he does not eagerly await God's punishment of his enemies or revenge for what has been done to him by those who reject him. On the contrary, he declares that he has come for their salvation, and on the cross he prays for forgiveness for those who execute him (Luke 9:52-56; 23:24). Thus he accepts his suffering, not as a powerless individual who trusts that God will do right by him or her, but as the Ruler who thinks it necessary to allow himself to be bound and killed.1

1.  Jakob Van Bruggen, Jesus the Son of God: The Gospel Narratives as Message [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books; 1999] pp. 157-158

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