Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "The Politics Of Jesus" by John Howard Yoder. Part II

I read the next three chapters of John Howard Yoder's "The Politics of Jesus" last Friday evening.  Mercifully, it was a mere forty pages.  This coming Friday's installment will be twice as long.  While last week's reading was focused on Yoder's view of the Kingdom of God through the lense of his liberal economic views, the next three chapters dealt exclusively with Yoder's case for Christian pacifism. 

"It is a general rule of proper textual interpretation that a text should be read for what its author meant to say and what its first readers or hearers would have heard it say."  So says Yoder.  I have no problem with this rule of interpretation, remembering that this is not the exclusive method of determining a text's meaning.  Yoder states that when Christians consider the question whether God sanctions the use of force for defense, using the Old Testament for guidence, Christians approach the Old Testament in a legalistic manner, viewing the God-sanctioned battles fought by Israel as proof that God allows the use of force by armies for self defense.  Yoder points out that God preserved Israel from its enemies by various means.  Sometimes God ordered the people of Israel to attack, sometimes He told Israel to do nothing while God destroyed the enemy.  No matter how Israel was to act, in fighting or in doing nothing, God was trying to teach His chosen people that they were to totally rely on His strength and not on their own: "It had thus become a part of the standard devotional ritual of Israel to look over the nation's history as one miraculous preservation..."  So far, no disagreement from me.  However, Yoder goes on to claim that truly pious Israelites interpreted this history as God's will that the use of armed forces in defense of one's nation be is always the wrong course of action, signifying a lack of trust in God's power to preserve that nation.  Yoder claims that this is how Jesus interpreted Israel's history and this is how his hearers would have interpreted His message: "Jahweh is an alternative to the self-determining use of Israel's own military resources in the defense of their existence as God's people."  Yoder analyzes various scriptures to back up his point, yet  as pointed out last week, he imposes his own prejudices upon the text in determining a text's meaning. (Example: "The Kingdom of God is a social order and not a hidden one.)  His take on Israel's defeat of the Amalikites in Ex. 17 is that God did not want Israel to use military force.  But, according to Yoder, Moses was wearied by Israel's continued complaining and so, in his weariness and anger, ordered Israel into battle without seeking God's guidance.  Yes, there was another incident of Israel questioning Moses and God, but if one reads the text carefully, that issue was resolved before the battle and to postualte Moses's weariness for his actions and that these actions were contrary to God's will is to read one's own prefered interpretation into the text.  There is one major problem with Yoder's contention that Jesus' hearers correctly interpteted His message to be one of eschewing legitimate self-defense: the Gospels make it clear that Jesus' hearers did not understand His message.  That is why He spoke in parables.

 Sometimes Yoder is all over the map.  He began his book lamenting the view that Jesus was an apocolyptic figure, believing the world was about to end, and so was unconcerned about the question of social ethics.  This view of Jesus was popularized by Albert Schweitzer.  Yet Yoder praises Schweitzer for portraying Jesus as he really was (in Yoder's opinion), an apocolyptic figure.  In last week's reading Yoder claims that the Gospel was closely tied to the Zealot movement.  Elsewhere Yoder claims that the message of Christian pacifism disavowed the Zealots.

In reading "The Politics of Jesus", my reactions vary.  When I read such passages as this: "His (Jesus') disavowel of Peter's well-intentioned effort to defend him cannot be taken out of the realm of ethics by the explanation that he had to get himself immolated in order to satisfy the requirements of some metaphysically motivated doctrine of the atonement; it was because God's will for God's man in this world is that he should renounce legitimate defense", my reaction is two-fold.  I rhetorically ask Yoder, where in the world do you find such meanings in the text without you imposing such meanings yourself?  I also ask myself,  "Just how orthodox a Christian was Yoder?"  And what is my reaction when I read passages such as this? "The whole cosmos must be taken as the ultimate revelation of the dimensions of mankind: the Jesus of the Gospel stories is merely a bridge for the cultural isolation of Judaism of the world- encompassing acceptance of the giveness of history and mankind in the deutero-Pauline proclamation." Zzzzzz. ZZZZZzzzzzz.  ZzzzzzzzZzzzzzZZZZZ!!!! ZZZ, zzzz, z(zzzzz)zzZzzz[Z]: zzzzz.  ZZzZzzz? z!z!z!z!z!"zzzzzz?" ZZZZZZ! Z. {z.}

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