Unification Theology

by Young Oon Kim

The Public Ministry Of Jesus

What was Jesus' Galilean ministry like? Modern scholars disagree quite strongly on this subject. Liberals like Goguel 50 and Goodspeed affirm that in spite of some opposition Jesus enjoyed great popularity in Galilee for a time. Because of his fame as a wonder-working faith healer and inspiring teacher, crowds flocked to hear him. Inevitably he aroused criticism from the orthodox scribes and Pharisees. But Jesus' supporters far out numbered his critics.

Liberal Biblical scholars therefore contrast two periods in Jesus' ministry: The early days which are compared to a "Galilean springtime" and a later period when Jesus faced dangerous opposition. 51 At first there seemed to be real chance that Jesus' ministry would be crowned with success.

Goodspeed states that a momentous change occurred as soon as the Pharisees persuaded Herod Antipas to suppress Jesus' movement. To avoid a perilous clash with his Galilean enemies, Jesus fled secretly to pagan Tyre and Sidon on the coastal plain of Phoenicia (Mk. 7:24), then spent time outside Herod's realm in the Decapolis area ruled by tetrarch Phillip (Mk. 7:31). Guignebert describes this period as the 52 erratic flight of a man who felt hunted.

In spite of these obstacles, Jesus refused to give up wholly the hope of success and ultimately winning a victory with his people. 53 Therefore he resolved to enter Jerusalem during the Passover festival and present himself to all Jews, offering to them their great messianic destiny. 54

Kfing, like most disciples of Bultmann, interprets Jesus' Galilean ministry very differently. For him, Jesus did not enjoy a Galilean spring filled with success. From the very beginning he encountered doubts, bitter hostility and rejection. 55 Thus, there was not a period of immense 56 popularity followed by a time of tribulation.

Furthermore, we cannot rely on the accuracy of Mark's temporal and geographical account of Jesus' ministry. According to the Form critics, Mark did not receive an outline of Jesus' life from tradition. He himself created the geographical and temporal connections which hold all the separate sayings and acts of Jesus together.

Yet, for Kfing too, the idea that Jesus went to Jerusalem only in order to die may be a later Christian interpretation, because as Luke reports, the disciples hoped that the journey to the Holy City would lead to the appearance of the kingdom (19:11). 57 Guignebert asserts that Jesus went to Jerusalem not to die but to act. 58 Or as Goguel concludes, when Jesus was forced to leave Galilee for refuge in an area beyond Herod's reach, his faith in his mission remained undisturbed. He was just as certain that the kingdom was near. 59

Liberationist theologian Jon Sobrino offers still a third explanation of Jesus' public ministry. 60 Like Goguel, he accepts the idea of a Galilean springtime when Jesus was immensely popular with the common people. However, unlike the liberals, Sobrino feels that Jesus was forced to change his faith as a result of Pharisaic hostility and Herod's enmity. This liberationist portrait of Jesus merits consideration because of its growing acceptance among educated Christians today.

According to Sobrino, at the start of his public life Jesus acted more or less like an apocalyptic Jew. His faith then was based upon belief in the eschatological promise. He speaks and acts as if the divine kingdom was dawning. He therefore does all he can to make concrete the love which is the heart of God's approaching rule. He also calls disciples to carry out a similar task: to proclaim the eschatological hope. Their faith was grounded upon complete trust in God who was supposedly drawing near to establish a universal fellowship. 61 Hearers were challenged to fix their gaze on the approaching kingdom, obey God and perform effective signs of human reconciliation.

Jesus' teachings and actions were designed to reconcile men to men and men to God. For example, he taught that if one is going to present a gift at the altar and suddenly remembers that there is a grievance separating him from his neighbor, he should leave the temple and first be reconciled to his brother before renewing his ties with God (Matt. 5:23, 24). To counteract the bitter religious animosity between Jews and Samaritans, Jesus taught the parable of the good Samaritan. To remove the antagonism between Jews and Romans, Jesus praised a Roman centurion for having greater faith than anyone in Israel. In opposition to the rigid social caste system, Jesus openly ate with publicans. And at a time when women were considered inferior to men, Jesus welcomed them into his intimate circle.

That first stage of Jesus' ministry came to an abrupt end. He abandoned the heart of Galilee, heading first to Caesarea Philippi and then toward the ten towns of the Decapolis. Why did this sudden change occur? Because Jesus realized that he had aroused dangerous opposition. 62

There are several clear signs pointing to his seeming lack of success (Mark 8, Matthew 13). The religious leaders had not accepted his preaching. 63 The crowds which had previously been enthusiastic now began to abandon him. Jesus' disciples failed to understand him. Possibly, as the Fourth Gospel suggests, there were two attempts to stone him, so he retired for safety to the other side of the Jordan River (8:59; 10:31, 39, 40).

All the Gospels hint that Jesus faced a serious inner as well as external crisis, Sobrino maintains. He seems to have been tempted to withdraw into seclusion, restricting his teaching to the small core of chosen disciples. At least there took place a radical change in his 64 understanding of himself and his mission.

Jesus was forced to reshape his faith. He retained his trust in God but appears to have realized that he might well be rejected by his people. Jesus' attitude from Caesarea Phillipi until his death on the cross was far different from his original confidence. Whereas earlier he expected the advent of the kingdom, now he recognized that he might face death. No longer did he expect the imminence of God's reign. He warned his disciples that he might have to suffer imprisonment and possibly death. Henceforth, discipleship is described as the summons to take up a cross. Jesus' faith in himself and his cause was thus radically altered in the midst of a conflict-ridden situation, both internal and external.

According to the Synoptic tradition, Jesus faced real temptation and not just at the beginning of his ministry, Sobrino says. He was forced to decide how he could concretely carry out his mission. Jesus had to overcome temptation resulting from the clash with the historical forces of sin. Because of serious conflicts with the religious authorities, Jesus' life was put in great jeopardy. His disciples arm themselves to ward off trouble. How can Jesus succeed in his mission? It seems as if force alone could save him. As we learn from the garden of Gethsemane story, he does not want to die. In great agony, he prays that God not require him to drink from the cup of martyrdom. If he could, he would avoid the passion.

50 M. Goguel, Life of Jesus (1954), pp. 308-399.

51 Luke 13:31 reports that Jesus was warned to flee Galilee because Herod sought to kill him. Goguel concludes that the tetrarch first kept watch on Jesus' movements and when he saw Jesus' fame spreading he decided to dispose of him (Ibid, p. 35 8).

52 C. Guignebert, Jesus (1956), p. 226.

53 E. J. Goodspeed, A Life of Jesus (1950), p. 130.

54 Ibid., p. 134.

55 H. Kiing, On Being a Christian (1976), p. 319. In Mark, opposition to Jesus is reported as early as chapter 2.

56 For a similar view, see G. Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 153.

57 Kong, op. cit., p. 319.

58 Guignebert, op. cit., pp. 227-228.

59 Goguel, op. cit., p. 420.

60 Sobrino, Christology at the Crossroads (1978).

61 According to Sobrino, in the earliest stage of his public life, Jesus believed and acted on the basis of his orthodox Jewish faith in the coming kingdom (Ibid., p. 92).

62 Sobrino bluntly states that Jesus realizes that he has failed in his mission as he had previously understood it (Ibid., p. 93).

63 According to Sobrino, the Galilean "crisis" is documented in Mark 8. The Pharisees angrily demand that Jesus prove his claims with a miraculous sign (8:11). Even his disciples do not understand him (8:2 1) and Jesus has to rebuke Peter as a satanic agent (8:33). Matthew 13:11 reports Jesus saying that the Pharisees and others cannot know the mysteries of the kingdom. John 6:66 tells us that many of Jesus' followers turned back and would no longer go with him. (Sobrino, Ibid., p. 93).

64 Ibid., p. 94. Because of what had happened, Jesus was tempted "to close his heart to his mission." He therefore undergoes a radical change in his understanding of his work. No longer trusting in the imminent kingdom, Jesus now relies solely on the power of suffering love.

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