Fight Like Jesus with Jason Porterfield

We are in the season of Lent, a time in which we rehearse Jesus’ walk to Jerusalem, his suffering, and his death on the cross. Often, we participate in Lent by giving up certain pleasures (i.e., meat, alcohol, chocolate, social media, etc.). Sometimes, believers celebrate by adding something to their daily practices (like silence, generous giving, meditation, etc.) Our Lenten practices help us remember our baptismal vows, lead us to grieve the cost of our sin, and move us to change patterns of behavior. Yet, rarely, does Lent cause us to consider our relationship to violence. Jason Porterfield, in his book Fight Like Jesus, invites us to reflect on peacemaking, especially during Holy Week.

Interestingly, I got to know Jason through his acts of violence. We were at the Urbana conference in December, sharing an exhibition space where we invited university students to consider urban mission among impoverished communities. As I sat at the table, I was frequently bombarded by pieces of candy. After a little investigation, I discovered that I was being pegged by Jason. Was he trying to teach me to fight like Jesus?

In his book, Jason Porterfield walks us through Holy Week, providing insightful biblical commentary, demonstrating Jesus’ intention to bring peace, and raising provocative questions about how we as Christ-followers emulate Jesus’ peace-making way. Jesus reveals practices of peace in the middle of a most violent week.

Palm Sunday: In the midst of waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna!”, we fail to notice Jesus’ tears. He weeps over Jerusalem for failing to know what would bring it peace. Porterfield discerns Jesus’ lament, amid the crowd’s joy, as an interpretive key for Holy Week. The struggle for peace is understood as the central struggle of Jesus’ march to the cross. Rather than riding the gleeful expectations for a messianic liberator to bring a righteous revolt, Jesus weeps for peace.

Holy Monday:  Contrary to popular notions of the cleaning of the temple being violent or spontaneous, Porterfield shows how this was a methodical act, which took time and preparation (i.e., trips to the temple for reconnaissance, making a whip, etc.). The act was not designed or used to harm people, but to purify space meant for the “gentiles” and being used instead for money-changers and the selling of animals for temple sacrifice (in contrast to the Maccabean violent reaction to abuse of the temple). When discussing the temple cleansing, we often overlook the fact that after the money changers and animal sellers went out, the blind and lame came in and were healed (Matthew 21:14). For these marginalized people, their admittance into the temple was just as miraculous as the physical healing they received. Matthew goes on to write that children also entered the temple courts and praised Jesus (21:15). Their presence in the temple is equally astonishing, for, as theologian Stanley Hauerwas notes, “children had always been excluded from the temple” (p. 24).

Holy Tuesday: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” The listeners realized that Jesus was alluding to the central Jewish tenet that all of humanity is created in God’s image. The implication is this: since the coin has Caesar’s image imprinted on it, give it back to him. Although the coin made claims for pax romana, Jesus intimates that he did not look to the face of Caesar for protection and peace. If everything belongs to God, what’s left for Caesar? What do we owe the Caesars of this world? The logical answer seems to be nothing.

Tuesday also includes the “seven woes to the Pharisees” (woe being a term of grief) and the “little apocalypse” in which Christ-followers are told to flee the immanent war with the Romans rather than defend Palestine. Christlike peacemakers follow Jesus in nonviolent love, speak truth to power and listen with humility when such truth is spoken to them, break the cycle of violence by routinely engaging in small acts of radical love.

Holy Wednesday: This day includes the anointing of Jesus’ feet (as a preparation for burial) by an unnamed women, the prophecy that one man should die for the sake of the nation, and Judas’ actions to betray Jesus. The anonymous women from the margins of society and vulnerable to violence of society, acts in ways that those around her find suspect or of disrepute, but Jesus defends her.  Jesus contends for peace on the margins of society. He refuses the mythology that violence is redemptive (that believes that violent means can bring peaceful ends). His efforts to make peace would result in his death, not the death of his enemies.

Maundy Thursday: This is the occasion of the Last Supper or the Passover meal – the breaking and giving of the Messiah’s body, not the enemy’s body; this is where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet; Jesus commands them to love one another as he has loved love. This new mandate is new as it commands us to become a newly formed community, loving like Jesus love and making Jesus known by this love. As violence encroaches and prompts the violent cutting off of an ear, Jesus heals the servant who intends to capture him.

Good Friday: Jesus is before Pilate, representing a kingly challenge to Caesar; proclaiming a kingdom that is not of this world’s violent kingdoms; prompting a choice between Jesus and Barabbas, the violent insurrectionist; and experiencing torture and death on a cross – suffering for the sake of sinners and enemies that breaks the cycle of violence.

Holy Saturday: Jesus is lain in the sealed tomb; later epistles tell us that Jesus descends into Hades, trampling on death with death and setting the captives free.

Easter Sunday: the women visit the tomb and find it empty; the first encounters with the resurrected Jesus, who commissions the disciples to make peace.

We do live in a violent world. Conflicts in central Africa, Myanmar, and Haiti disturb our deepest notions humanity and survival. The communities of Word Made Flesh are intentionally present in places where people are vulnerable to violence, whether that is in poor neighborhoods, helping abused women, or responding to Ukrainian refugees. At times, violence may be a last resort to the threat of violence – and then always regrettable. However, most often, our choice is not between abuse or abuser, victim or victimizer, fight or flight. There are creative choices in the space between. Jason’s book invites us to practice peacemaking, to image loving and helping those who threaten us rather than harming them, to cultivate communities of security rather than sharpening our aim with guns, and to envision a future shared by us and those considered threats and enemies.

While violence should always be regretted, one thing I do not regret is suffering the attacks of flying candies from the hand of Jason (and perhaps retaliating), getting to know him, and being led by his book to becoming Christians that better resemble the way of our Messiah.

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