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Jesus the Anarchist
as it appeared in A Revolution in Kindness, edited by Anita Roddick

by Philip Berrigan

One of the best-kept secrets of the world has been the activism – the nonviolent resistance of Jesus. A close reading of the Gospel reveals this – his calling to accountability an unjust, corrupt system. That wasted the poor and turned society into a mad beehive. Like today!

Kindness does not adequately describe his relationship to the poor, or to those who suffer – compassion is better. “My heart is moved with compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.” (Mk 8:2) Nor does nonviolent revolutionary sum him up – anarchist is better – one who lives self-government, i.e. re-presenting the poor, resisting a criminal State, attending to the just works of God. “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” (Mt. 22:21) Since all belonged to God, he gave nothing to Caesar.

Most of this is suppressed from today’s Christians, simply because the established church has chosen chaplaincy to the imperial state. And so, virtually no one teaches Christians the nonviolence of Jesus, nor his calling to community, nor his voluntary poverty, no his choice of the cross. Especially his choice of the cross, that living symbol of resistance to evil, to systemic evil – to imperial governments, to predatory corporations, to nuclear weapons, to war as politic and diplomacy, to despoliation of the environment, to killing in any form. “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” (Mt. 10:38)

St. Paul calls Jesus the “Yes” of God, embodying all that was truly human – goodness, truth, faith, justice. He could have mentioned also that Jesus was the “No” of God – the fierce resister of structural injustice, all of it dominative, violent, coercive, parasitical. Those are coalitions which dominate and control others, which grow fat on the misery of the poor, terrorize with nuclear weapons, declare an annual war, and loot the planet of its forests, fisheries, oil, and metals.

What are these organizations of oppression that lie to us, rob us, and sometimes kill us – empires, nation-states, globalized corporations, World Trade Organizations, tariff and trade agreements (NAFTA), war ministries (“Department of Defense”), banks, stock exchanges. Jesus would denounce and resist the scurrying, blind creatures that build and idolize them, while loving them and agonizing over their conversion.

The next imperative to clarify is “follow!” Follow him to what? To disgrace, ridicule, ostracism, imprisonment, torture, possibly death. The saints and martyrs did that. One friend has completed 18 and years in prison for resistance to nuclearism. Another 13 and years.

Few choose the path to life. As the poet W.H. Auden put it: “Many are called, but few choose to be chosen.”