Re-reading the passion narrative in Luke, I noticed — sadly for the first time — that Christ was crucified as a political actor for political reasons.
Of course there was a bigger story going on, the one celebrated in the gospel, Christ dying to reconcile humanity to God.
But as far as everyone on the ground was concerned, it was politics. And seeing it in this light is fascinating. Jesus was out to ‘get’ the ruling religious authorities in Jerusalem. They had stolen religious affairs for their own good, not the common good. They were running the religion business so that they did well out of it: best seats at the banquets, top places in the synagogues.
Jesus campaigned against them. First he started a popular movement, going from town to town preaching and building large crowds. Then he spent some months training followers. Finally he invaded the Temple and taught right in their faces. This was incendiary stuff and everyone knew it.
But how did he ‘win’?
He chose the path of non-violence. He let them beat him, try him unjustly, crucify him.
Yet instead of stamping his movement out, as they hoped, within weeks it had thousands of followers, some of whom were themselves willing to die for him.
Over coming decades, the movement grew, and it split the autocracy still trying to control Jerusalem as Pharisees started to believe.
Finally the Temple was swept away by the Romans. Meanwhile the size of the Church grew, at its widest estimate, to a third of the human race.
The power of non-violence today
I saw this same dynamic when I was writing a book on Algeria. The White Fathers, a Catholic order, decided to stay in the country as the situation deteriorated into civil war in the 1990s. As very public Christians, they were obvious targets for the Islamic militants who were half of the civil war. (The state was the other combatant.) I remember hearing of three White Fathers, friends of a friend of mine, who were gunned down in cold blood one morning. The small Christian cemetery was filled with Muslim friends at their burial. One wrote to the newspaper saying something like, ‘I want to live like they do.’
This was not, presumably, was the Islamic militants intended: Christ and Christ’s peaceful ways were exalted. That which was supposed to be stamped out, lived.