market, modern nation-state, political theology, thesis, torture

The Interruptive Jesus: “Who do you say I am?”

A Christian community that situates itself in the world, does so, whether it explicitly acknowledges it or not, through a Christology. The experience of Jesus – in both ontology and praxis – remembered by the community, forms the foundation for an ecclesial politic. To begin to engage, say, torture, we must look back at whom Jesus was. Thus implications for change upon American Christians are vast, because Jesus was and is fundamentally interruptive. Therefore, the community of faith that understands itself primarily around the Christ should likewise understand itself as interruptive.

Theologically, we are bound to a tragic past and we also have a tragic future as well. Save for the interruption of God, we live in evil and its consequences, tragedy. But such an idea does not play well in the state that says it is the agent of peace or the market that claims a monopoly on lifestyle. The state could not be the agent of peace if it did not claim the ability to achieve it, which necessitates power and the moral will to create this “peace.” Likewise the market could not claim the ability to achieve happiness if it could not force humanity into a structure that gains wealth for some. Optimism, of a Deus ex Machina nature – our self-made god by our constructed machine (i.e. social structure, technology, etc.), is a necessity for the state and the market: We will intervene and resurrect ourselves when it seems bleak. Faith in the American experiment is a must, or the false stories die and torture loses its foundation.

The remembrance of 9/11, as remembered by the state and the market, is inherently an American memory and not a Christian memory. Allowing our memory to be altered by the matrix of culture’s identity leads into a vindictive Christology by the Rome of our time, rather than allowing the challenge of Jesus – the scandal of Jesus’ life – to wash over the body of Christ. Because “the image of Jesus…allows us to encounter him as the revelation of God’s open narrative,” as opposed to the closed narrative of the state and market who seek to maintain power and control, quite simply, Jesus, and not the state or market, “can be described as God’s interrupter.”1

The incarnation was an interruption. It validated creation and yet opposed commodities. God came as a human, an impoverished human, and not a dollar sign. Jesus was not to be bought and sold, nor a price tag put on him – it was an evil act that sold him for thirty pieces of silver. Jesus was also born not into Roman citizenship or among the emperor’s family, but into a “lowly” status. Jesus was not a commodity or human royalty, but God interrupting economic anthropologies with God’s own economy of grace.

The preaching of the basileia was an interruption of the Emperor’s rule, in both political and economic forms. The very words of Jesus interrupted the language and stories of the status quo – the basileia had come.2 Jesus accompanied his words with actions, equally interruptive actions as the rule of God.3 To name some praxis: there were healings, caring for the poor, miracles, and upsetting the established economic balance in the temple: “Jesus not only aroused the amazement of the bystanders, but at the same time he summoned the forces behind the hegemonic narratives against him in their defense.”4

The cross was an interruption – the death of God was and is a scandal. The idea that God would be the tortured and not the torturer, the criminal and not the emperor, and the one who died instead of lived on, was a scandal of the highest magnitude. “A crucified messiah, son of God or God must have seemed a contradiction in terms to anyone…and it will certainly have been thought offensive and foolish.”5 Quite simply, Jesus suffered; Jesus was tortured and executed in political terms at the low social level of a slave and by Jesus’ own admission, forgotten.6 The connection then of the cross, and the torture associated with it, to the oppressor yesterday and today is not a comfortable connection. “[T]he earliest Christian message of the crucified messiah demonstrated the ‘solidarity’ of the love of God with the unspeakable suffering of those who were tortured and put to death by human cruelty.”7 The cross calls us to the margins, where the people are tortured, and not to stay where we are as complicit with the torturer. This interrupts our entire life and lifestyle.

The resurrection was an interruption. The resurrection made clear that no oppressor will win forever and death lost its sting. For the Romans, and by implication, America today, “the suffering of a god soon had to be shown to be mere simulation, rapidly followed by punishment for those humans who had been so wicked to cause it.” Indeed, the cross still ought to be a scandal that informs the body of Christ about those who suffer in society today – the cross was not followed by a war, but a resurrection and hope with solidarity. The resurrection pre-pictured the parousia and added an extra dimension of eschatological hope in the basileia, combined with the suffering of Jesus.

Christian suffering and hope are intertwined and together constitute the climax of Christian interruption, while the state’s continued torture shows the stark contrast between Jesus and the state.9 9/11 Christology leads to blindness, a subsumed racism, pride, (at least) partially undeserved wealth, and oppression – a bourgeois Christianity comfortable in its sloth. Opposite, Jesus forms a communal body that seeks to speak of God’s salvation in the world. “For Christians, professing Christ is then also the interruption par excellence of history.”10

1. Lieven Boeve, Interrupting Tradition: An Essay on Christian Faith in a Postmodern Context, (Dudley, MA: Peeters Press, 2003), 145.
2. Ibid., 121-124, 127-131.
3. Ibid., 124-127.
4. Ibid., 126-127.
5. Martin Hengel, Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross, trans. John Bowden (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 10.
6. Ibid., 46, 51.
7. Ibid., 88. Also see, “Jesus, the memoria passionis, mortis et resurrectionis Jesu Christi both attest to God’s solidarity with all victims of suffering and oppression and assures the final, still unrealized deliverance of the victims. Christians thereby read history not in affirmation of conquest but in hope for the conquered.” Bruce Morrill, Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory: Political and Liturgical Theology in Dialogue (Collegville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2000), 36.
8. Hengel, 15.
9. Anthony Kelly, Eschatology and Hope (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2006), 88.
10. Lieven Boeve, God Interrupts History: Theology in a Time of Upheaval (New York: Continuum, 2007), 47.


2 thoughts on “The Interruptive Jesus: “Who do you say I am?”

  1. saint egregious says:

    David, This is a very powerful piece and I am deeply grateful that you have shared it and are taking up the theme of torture in your last few posts. I am doing something similar myself, and am heartened to see someone else see that torture is a key to reformulating a relevant theology today. I look forward to seeing what else you come up with.

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