Jesus Challenges Empire
[The following article is a report from the 8th Sabeel International Conference, “Challenging Empire: God, Faithfulness, and Resistance.”]
About 200 international participants have come to Bethlehem for the Eighth Sabeel International Conference. The group gathered at the Bethlehem Hotel under the theme, “Challenging Empire: God, Faithfulness and Resistance.” Sabeel is the ecumenical liberation theology center based in Jerusalem.
Dr. Richard Horsley told participants, “Jesus was a Palestinian under imperial rule. Just as the modern state of Israel and other states in the Middle East were the creation of Western colonialism, so the ancient temple-state in Judea” was set up by foreign powers.
Horsley described Jesus as a community organizer working to renew in village communities a commitment to the covenant laws of God. He said, “… all of the Gospels … portray Jesus as having the same basic agenda, the renewal of the people of Israel in opposition to the Jerusalem and Roman rulers of the people.” Jesus’ program “tapped into the people’s deeply rooted cultural traditions,” he said. Horsley is Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and the Study of Religion, University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA.
Jesus’ commitment to renewal in village communities was strategic, Horsley said. It was “a key component in a strategy of resistance to the rulers, a confrontation of Empire. By restoring their mutual cooperation and solidarity, villagers could resist the further disintegration of their communities.” Vulnerable families could be encouraged “not to succumb to the outside forces that would turn them into
share-croppers or force them off their ancestral land and out of the village community,” he said. “By mobilizing people power and building community solidarity, Jesus’ renewal of
the covenant also became a form of resistance to the predatory pressures of the Empire,” he said.