Posted by: rogermitchell | February 23, 2012

ecclesia as counterpolitical activism in relation to the powers (iii)

The previous post concluded by underlining the way in which the confrontation between Jesus and the powers in the first three chapters of Luke can be seen in terms of the kenarchic priorities of children, the creation and the poor, and the way that the narrative culminates in the story of Jesus’ encounter with the devil in chapter four. In the discussion of Luke’s emphasis on these three priorities, and in the comments that have ensued in the resultant discussion as can be seen above, the oppression of women by empire and their counter role in the kingdom of God emerged strongly. As a result, after further reflection on this as indicated in my reply to Cheryl, I have come to the conclusion that the instatement of women needs to be included among the now six priorities of kenarchy, and that this was a very significant omission that needs to be set right. It will be the subject of a later post before too long.

In the meantime, and continuing to bear this further priority of kenarchy in mind, this post looks at Luke chapter two. Here Luke again sets the story in the context of the powers of empire. The effects of the top down decree by which the governing powers of Rome took ownership of the inhabitants of the then known world is clearly demonstrated (vv 1-5). Luke describes the disruptive impact on the general populace irrespective of their individual needs (v 3), and in describing what it meant for the pregnant Mary and the baby Jesus, showed what imperial sovereignty meant for women and children (v 5).

At this point the alternative character of the governance of God emerges even more strongly as the content of Luke’s narrative. This is obvious in both transcendent and immanent terms. The transcendent is represented as populated by a multitude [plēthos] of angels, matching the human multitude (vv 9-13), praising God and announcing peace among humanity in the immanent context of the creation []. Note that it’s peace ‘among’ humankind, the same word eventually used of Jesus’ position ‘among’ the people and in direct contrast with the dominating decree of Caesar, the paramount “lord of the gentiles” (Lk 22:27). In the culminating narrative of these preliminary chapters, this is, of course, the lordship claimed by the devil and recognised as demonic by Jesus himself (Lk 4:5-8), and was not at all the kind of power that Jesus exercised. The interface of these two different kinds of power provides the setting for the whole of Luke’s narrative, and as I attempt to show in my book Church, Gospel, & Empire (see the blog page “my latest book is now available for purchase”) provides the interface between the imperial powers and the divine power in the ensuing history of the ecclesia.

The subsequent behaviour of the shepherds aligns them with the angelic multitude of heaven, not the imperial institutions of the propagators of empire. The prophetic announcements of Simeon and Anna similarly reveal the trajectory of a different history to that of Rome and its powers. This is along the lines of the Hebrew prophetic tradition both in its initial expression (Is 9:1-7) and in its later apocalyptic form (Dan 2:45; 7:13-14). Both Isaiah’s vision of the child bringing light in the darkness and Daniel’s vision of the son of man, depict a humble yet divine manifestation of an entirely different kind of power to empire that will eventually overcome it. Luke’s narrative sets the coming of Jesus firmly in this alternative trajectory within the world.

To conclude, we belong in the community of this world, set as it is in the oppressive context of imperial governance and its successive transformations, but for the peace of the multitude and the undoing of empire, not its promulgation.

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