I know that the season of Lent—which memorializes the path that the Palestinian Jew Jesus took up on his way to a brutal execution at the hands of the occupying imperial forces—is supposed to be all about self-denial. However, I also know that it is about God’s own self-denial or self-emptying and that it is about a deliberately provocative act that even Nietzsche had to acknowledge did more to undermine Roman hegemony than any act of religious penance.
Does Jesus know what he is doing? Do we? What was Jesus doing identifying his own provocation with divine provocation? What was Jesus doing when he identified this flagrantly provocative, revolutionary, act with divine activity?
Jesus knows that he is going into the heart of the collaboration with Rome. Until then he has bided his time in the countryside, where opposition to the occupation is more popular. There he has embodied and taught lessons that, much later, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, the Berrigan Brothers and Mother Jones would emulate to great effect. But now he is going into the heart of the imperial presence. Does he know that they will kill him? Does he know that his act will forever identify God with this act of resistance?
No. Lent is not a season of self-abnegation. At least not in any normal meaning of the word. Today we begin our path to the heart of the Roman occupation, God’s path to the heart of hegemony. Will you join us?