The devil led Jesus up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

    It must have been a tempting proposition for Jesus. Here he is, at the beginning of his public ministry, with the opportunity to influence and rule all the kingdoms of the world. 

    In fact, the risen Jesus’ very last words to the disciples in Matthew’s gospel are, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”

    The devil is giving him the opportunity to do just that, to create a Christian empire without all the pain and suffering that Jesus will undergo in the next years.

    But Jesus’ refuses the devil’s offer. “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him,'” he replies.

    Jesus knows something about empires. He was born to a peasant couple in a land that was occupied and ruled by the Roman Empire.

    Even in far-flung corners of the empire, like Galilee and Jerusalem, Rome ruled with an iron fist. For all subjects of the empire allegiance to Rome trumped all other aspects of life.

    In fact, the emperor, Caesar Augustus, was considered divine. He was called the Son of God, God incarnate, Lord, and Savior of the world.

    Life was hard and often brutal for laborers, or the peasant class, to which Jesus belonged. The glories and riches of Rome did not extend to them, even though their labor and taxes helped the empire accrue great wealth.

    Even though they were far from the seat of power in Rome, the presence of the empire was all around them. Local Roman governors and rulers lived in lavish opulence. The military might of the Roman military was always on display with soldiers making frequent appearances on the streets of Jerusalem.

    Under Roman rule life was cheap. A person’s life was only worth what they could do for the empire. Any protest of the Roman way was punished by death.

    Military power, economic power, political power, ideological power — Rome had it all. 

    The much vaunted “Pax Romana,” or Roman peace was obtained through violence, conquest, and fear.

    That is the context into which Jesus was born, and in which he began his public ministry. 

    “The story of Jesus is not just a religious story, but a political one as well,” says theologian and historian John Dominic Crossan.

    “Jesus wasn’t just an itinerant preacher, but was an alternative voice, making him a threat to Rome and the Jewish leaders who collaborated with the empire.”

    Jesus and his followers worked to nonviolently subvert the empire of Rome.

    While Rome touted the “Pax Romana,” Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God, a nonviolent transformation of the world.

    Jesus’ message was one of God’s nonviolent presence, of a collaboration between God and God’s people to change the world through justice and compassion. He taught that true peace comes through challenging inequalities and the spiral of violence so prevalent in the empires of the world.

    Jesus’ message of peace and justice and compassion threatened the Roman rule, and led to his execution.

    It is the resurrected Jesus who tells his followers to go make disciples of all nations. Jesus was not instructing them to trade the Roman Empire for a Christian Empire, but to spread God’s realm of peace through justice and compassion throughout the world.

    Jesus rejects all empires.

    It is interesting that this story about the temptation of empires comes this week, when the violence of empire is on full display with Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine.

    The images have been heartbreaking and brutal. More than one million people becoming refugees overnight, streaming toward the borders in a desperate bid for safety.

    Families seeking sanctuary in underground subway stations as Russian bombs fall overhead.

    Parents weeping over the deaths of their children. Buildings reduced to rubble. Fire at a nuclear plant. Residential neighborhoods targeted for destruction.

    I heard an interviewer ask a Russian expert if the images of children suffering would affect Putin, perhaps stir in him some compassion, make him rethink what he is doing.

    The answer was a swift no. An emperor, or a wanna-be emperor, considers compassion a sign of weakness. Human life, even the lives of his own people and soldiers, is inconsequential to him. 

    There is no such thing as a good war, but there are times — very rarely — when war may be justified. This is not one of them.

    This invasion of Ukraine is pure evil, a naked grab for land, power, and control, a war instigated to boost the ego of Russian President Vladimir Putin, to show the rest of the world that he is a player, that he has no compunction or qualms about exercising brutality against innocent people.

    It has been difficult to read about and watch the images of the past days. I admit there have been times that I have turned the channel, or put away the news to escape into a mindless novel.

    You, like me, may feel powerless in the face of such suffering and evil.

    But as followers of Jesus we are called to bear witness to what is happening, to call out the evil for who and what it is, to not sink into despair, to not let our compassion become numbed by the enormity of the suffering. 

      Pray for the people of Ukraine and those who are helping them. Send money to organizations that are providing relief for refugees.

    Don’t complain when gas prices go up because of the economic sanctions against Putin and Russia.

    And remember that Jesus rejects all empires.

Pin It on Pinterest