02
Sep
20

Time for a jolt?

As a child of the 60s, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about protests. 

Granted, most of my participation in the anti-war or civil rights protests of that era consisted of watching them on TV from the safety of my parent’s living room. 

Then again, there was that one time when five or six of my friends and I “took over” the roof of the administration building on our college campus for a few hours in order to protest the Vietnam War. 

The quotation marks around the words “took over” in that last sentence stem from the fact that no one really seemed to much mind us being up on the roof of the admin building. They studiously ignored our chanting and passionate singing of “We Shall Overcome.” We maintained that righteous rooftop vigil right up until it was time to head home and finish the term papers that were due the next day. 

While it is true that I was personally a bit of a protest weenie, I see real value in taking a grievance to the streets. I believe that the Vietnam War might have dragged on for years longer had it not been for those anti-war peaceniks. The struggle for civil rights – though far from resolved even today – might not have gained even token footholds without the people who were willing to gather publicly and express their collective outrage at America’s Jim Crow status quo.

As I think about protestors, I also think about the Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire… the young man in Beijing (and his friends) who faced down tanks in Tiananmen Square… and of Nelson Mandela sitting alone in a South African jail cell for 27 years.

At the time most of these people were labeled extremists… kooks… dangerous radicals. So-called reasonable people denounced their tactics as wholly unnecessary. They urged calm, cogent conversation as the preferred way to solve society’s problems. 

But as history has demonstrated again and again, calm, cogent conversation doesn’t always move the needle. Sometimes, it takes an abrupt JOLT!

As it turns out, no one understood the strategic use of the abrupt JOLT quite as well as Jesus of Nazareth. He employed it regularly in the rhetorical technique known as “prophetic hyperbole.” A great example shows up in Mark’s gospel where we read these jolting words: “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.” (Mark 9:43-45, NRSV). 

Does he really mean people should cut off their own hands or feet? 

Or when he told the rich young man that salvation meant selling everything he owned, giving the money to the poor and following him, did he mean that literally?

My guess would be that Jesus didn’t really intend for his words in Mark to be taken as a literal command. In the other one, maybe he did. But maybe not. 

You see, Jesus was a revolutionary. He came to turn the status quo of the world upside down. He did not come for calm, reasoned discussions. He came to instigate radical, top-to-bottom life change. 

In fact, when this man – sometimes called the Prince of Peace – talked about his earthly mission in Luke’s gospel he said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51, NRSV). 

Jesus sought to WAKE PEOPLE UP! To shake them from their complacency! To stress the urgency of the moment. 

Please understand… I am not saying that the people taking violently to the streets today are shining examples of Christ-like behavior. I have no insight into their hearts or minds. Many, I feel certain, are interested only in mayhem and destruction. 

What I AM saying is that sometimes the world finds itself in a place where a good, old-fashioned JOLT of prophetic hyperbole is exactly what the doctor ordered. 

What do you think… is this that kind of time? 


2 Responses to “Time for a jolt?”


  1. September 3, 2020 at 5:24 pm

    I was just reading the passage about cutting off hands and feet and gouging out eyes yesterday, and a thought came to mind. I Corinthians 12:12 describes the Church as “the Body of Christ.” I wonder if there could be any relation between this and the purging of the Church Paul was calling for in I Corinthians 5. (“Expel the immoral brother!”) Just some food for thought.


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