“And in this corner, weighing 150 pounds and wearing a purple robe and crown of thorns, is Je-SUS CHRIST!”
That’s the kind of intro you might expect in a book titled Fight Like Jesus. Happily, there’s nothing of that kind here at all. Instead, it’s a timely and useful guide to how Jesus confronted the powers that be during the last week of his life.
Author Jason Porterfield has direct, on-the-ground, experience working for God’s vision of shalom among the urban poor in Canada and Indonesia. His book not only demonstrates how Jesus fought peacefully but also reveals how such tactics might be pursued today.
The book is subtitled “How Jesus Waged Peace Throughout Holy Week.” It is valuable for its examination of how Jesus negotiated the social and political minefields of first-century Jerusalem. It’s also helpful in offering lessons in how those insights might be applied today.
You can, if you like, read it as a review of what Jesus did during Holy Week. Porterfield has studied some of the best scholarly work on the subject, and his presentation is clear and compelling.
The book includes insightful discussion questions, making it a good Lenten study for a small group. It’s main strength may be how cleanly it integrates historical study with practical application. You can’t read this without being drawn away from normal violent knee-jerk reactions to provocation and toward risky but non-violent ways of standing up to oppression and abuse.
Starting with Palm Sunday, Porterfield shows how “Jesus was crucified on Friday precisely because of how he sought to make peace on the previous days of Holy Week.” The palm parade leading him into Jerusalem is both a parody of Roman military might and a declaration that God is acting decisively through Jesus.
Jesus’ use of a “whip” of cords to clear the temple marketplace on Monday is often cited as a violent act, but Porterfield argues that the cords were lightweight wicker, useful for shooing away sheep and cattle but unlikely to cause injury to livestock or humans.
Tuesday is a day of rhetorical duels. Jesus stands his ground against verbal attacks and denounces those trying to lure him into political traps. He warns his followers that the violent ways of the nation’s leadership will lead to a horrible war and the destruction of Jerusalem. (It is not, Porterfield notes carefully, a “prediction” of “the end times,” and certainly not a rapture away from the mayhem.)
Wednesday also is a day of contrast. While religious leaders huddle to find a way to get rid of him, Jesus has dinner with friends and praises a woman who honors him as king by anointing him with oil.
One point here is that good ends don’t justify bad means to achieve them. Means are “nothing less than the end coming into existence,” Porterfield comments. So you do reap as you sow, and as Jesus will say soon, those who rely on the sword will die by it.
On Thursday, Jesus prepares for Passover. He gives his disciples a new command, “Love one another.” It can be done only in and through a community where all are welcome and nurtured to grow.
On this day there arises the issue of Jesus telling his disciples to buy swords. The point is not that they should be armed and prepared for violence (as Peter soon shows). Rather, because of Peter’s act, Jesus will be numbered with violent offenders.
Friday, of course, focuses on Jesus’ death. Porterfield shows how Jesus could be considered a scapegoat, but he totally rejects the popular notion that God has to smash Jesus with a mighty hammer to defend the divine honor. He notes: “Christlike peacemakers live by a spirit of mercy, never vengeance.”
The choice offered the crowd between Jesus and Barabbas is the same choice we face today. Which Messiah will we choose: the violent offender or the peacemaker? Which way shall we follow: the way of violence or the way of peace? Even while he’s being murdered, Jesus prays for his murderers. It’s a tough act to emulate.
When the risen Jesus first greets his disciples, he says: “Peace be with you!” It’s more than a greeting. It’s a vision of how he wants them – and us – to live as his followers.
Ultimately the book justifies its title. Jesus is no namby-pamby who is easily brushed aside. He fights fiercely for what he knows is right. But he uses an array of non-violent “weapons” to achieve his goals.
For these polarized times, when we are tempted to view neighbor as “other” and “other” as enemy, Fight Like Jesus offers a difficult alternative: the way of peace pioneered by Jesus Christ. It’s a welcome antidote to our un-Christlike thought and rhetoric.
(This book review is through Speakeasy, which offers free copy of the book in exchange for a fair review of it.)