Reza Aslan’s basic thesis in his book “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” is that Jesus was a failed revolutionary who was willing to use violence to overthrow the political and religious order to bring in God’s kingdom.
Aslan rejects outright the many teachings of Jesus about nonviolence, peacemaking and love of enemies and dismisses as irrelevant Jesus’ refusal to resist his own capture and execution.
Instead, he focuses on a few passages where Jesus says he didn’t come to bring peace, such as Luke 12:49-53: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! … Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three.”
Aslan’s argument can be easily refuted by historical scholarship, but we are still left to wrestle with Jesus’ teaching in the above passage. What is Jesus talking about?
I believe Jesus’ point is that reconstruction involves deconstruction. For God’s kingdom to come, our kingdoms have to go. God’s kind of peace is at first disruptive and divisive.
Before Jesus can mediate God’s peace, he must overturn and disturb our false and shallow notions and expressions of peace. This disruptive deconstruction affects every area of our lives.
Jesus disrupts our systems of meritocracy when he makes true religion a matter of the heart expressed through love of God and neighbor. Jesus disturbs our sense of self-righteousness, of what is pleasing and displeasing to God.
In the first church I pastored right after seminary, a deacon charged me with not preaching enough on sin. I responded by telling him I would begin doing so.
I started talking about greed, our love of possessions, the arrogance of thinking that we alone have the truth and alone are right, and the sin of judging others and trying to control others. I found out rather quickly that these were not the kind of sins he wanted me to preach against.
Jesus overturns our nationalistic and exclusive views of God, upsetting and challenging all tribal and national gods.
Instead of carrying the banner “God bless Israel,” Jesus says, “God bless the whole, crazy messed-up world” (see Luke 4:16-30). Jesus redefines who is “in” and who is “out.”
Jesus shakes up our materialistic views of worth and our sense of what constitutes success by speaking of the dangers of affluence, not the benefits.
Jesus redefines a person’s worth independent of position, power or possessions and talks about how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. In God’s kingdom, the last will be first and the first last (see Matthew 19:30; 20:16).
Jesus also disturbs the nice little ways we package our faith. Many of us look to our faith to add another layer of security to our already secure lives. But Jesus calls us to a kind of commitment that thrusts us into dangerous and risky situations.
Jesus knows that our allegiance to his cause – to his vision of nonviolence, forgiveness and social justice and to his faith in a large, compassionate God who champions the plight of the poor and marginalized – will be divisive, even within our own families.
Jesus calls for honesty, integrity and humility in all our relationships and that can be inwardly disturbing.
We like to steer away from our failures, but the Spirit targets them. Not because God wants us to wallow in feelings of guilt or condemnation, but because any true relationship with God and others must be grounded in truth and coupled with honest, humble confession.
Are we willing to allow Jesus to disrupt, disturb and divide in order that we might embrace and embody a holistic vision of life?
It doesn’t sound too bad until we remember that the way of Jesus led to the cross, but it is here where ultimate reconciliation is found (Ephesians 2:11-22).