Yoder highlights some very important texts that show a distinctly political edge to Jesus’ ministry. The songs of Mary and Zechariah, and the early ministry of John, all have distinctly Maccabean / political flavours to them. Equally, the Son of God, Kingdom of God and Messiah language are grounded on the geo-political entity of Israel and her King. Even as Jesus expands the meaning, it requires a lot of foot-work to remove any political inferences. There is also a level in which the resistance against Jesus was on political grounds – he was building a big following, and those sorts of people at that time tended to lead revolutions eventually.
The problem comes with Yoder’s antitheses. He is not content to show that Jesus is political, he wants to show that Jesus is political instead of spiritual. In his first reference to the crucifixion, Yoder states “the cross is beginning to loom not as … Propitiation but … alternative to both insurrection and quietism”. It is this not/but language, rather than both/and, that is troubling. Obviously I have only read three chapters so far, but I can’t help wondering if this is going to affect his ethics substantially
This (false) antithesis is shown in Yoder’s handling of the text. In his brief survey, Yoder only handles a few incidents. He deals with the first four chapters in detail: the birth narratives, the baptism and temptation and the incident in a synagogue where Jesus reads Isaiah. He then skips to chapter 6 – the sermon on the plain, then to the feeding in Luke 9. After this, he discusses parts of Jesus’ teaching in chs 12-14 before accelerating to the triumphal entry in ch 19. The last days of Jesus are covered in more detail with one notable exception: the resurrection.
The only verses referred to in Luke 24 are used to demonstrate that the disciples expected a political action from Jesus, but were disappointed. There is no comment on the fact that a man formerly dead is now alive! There is no consideration of how God’s miraculous intervention extends the concept of the Kingdom of God from being just political to eternal and spiritual. In short, his ethic of the cross is not modified by any theology of the resurrection.
One of the effects of this is that Yoder excludes possibility that Jesus was misunderstood by everybody (p51). The fact that everyone heard Jesus’ language as political (even the disciples on the road to Emmaus) is used as proof that Jesus meant what they heard. There is no consideration that the Resurrection, and what Jesus taught about it – including on the road – was what made the disciples realise their mistake and understand Jesus properly
Omitting the resurrection is easily Yoder’s biggest mistake, but it is not his only one. Apart from the feeding of the 5000, he never mentions a miracle. Calming storms, defeating demons and healing sicknesses are all things that Jesus did to show the nature of his Kingship. To ignore these will affect your understanding of Jesus almost as much as ignoring the resurrection. Yoder also makes references to source-critical considerations, suggesting that he considers that parts of Luke are not accounts of what Jesus actually said or did (e.g. p35, 42n6). This reveals an over-all down-playing of miraculous or spiritual issues that makes me wonder whether Yoder even believes about the Resurrection, miracles and inspiration of the Bible. If Yoder’s God is not the kind who raises from the dead, heals miraculously or communicates himself divinely and (at least reasonably) clearly, then this will have massive effects on his ethics.