My understanding is that, initially, this incarnate God spoke loud and long as a prophet (Luke 7:16-17, Matt. 21;11; Rev. 3:14),
immersed in the harsh everyday world
of tenant farmers
and tax collectors
and wage laborers
and HIV-leprosy sufferers
and guerrilla fighters
and poverty hustlers
and dolled up, street-walkers.
He learned his message from bombastic, uppity women
who would not keep quiet in the courtroom (Luke 18:1-8),
would not take "no" for an answer
when he was "underground"
and trying to hide from the authorities
up near the city of Tyre (Mark 7:24-30),
would not refrain from wiping him
with their hair at hoity-toity dinner parties (Luke 7:36-50)
or contaminating him with uncleanness
by touching him in the marketplace (Mark 5:24-34),
would not even consult their husbands
when deciding to "have" him, as a baby, by somebody else! (Matt. 1:18-24; Luke 1:26-38).
This God continued to speak even when he was no longer invited to read the bible in nice, respectable "churches" (John 7:11; Luke 4:16-30; John 11:54),
pray for the nice sick daughters of the wealthy
or their nice dying servants (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43; Luke 7:1-10),
or give nice opinions on local events (Luke 13:1-5),
because so much of what he had to say
did not sound so nice to well-washed and perfumed ears (Matt. 23:1-39; Luke 11:37-54).
He spoke even when accompanied by crowds who smelled (John 11:39),
who were presumed to be thieves (Luke 19:1-10; John 12:4-6; Mark 11:17)
who organized parades on pretenses (Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:39)
and misunderstood everything
except that their own exploiters and oppressors
were getting a public comeuppance in this guy's words
He spoke even when the CIA lurked (Mark 7:1),
when the FBI jerked his chain (Mark 3:6; Matt. 12:14),
when the spin-meisters sought to catch him
in damming sound-bites (Mark 12:13; Luke 11:53-54),
when the police threatened arrest
after a day-long takeover of the national shrine
(Mark 11:18; Luke 19:47-48).
He only ceased speaking when the kangaroo court demanded that he speak
(Mark 14:60- 61).
Then, in the final moment,
far from a quiet, complacent passing on,
in full control of pain and pathos
like some god-in-human-drag,
"slumming," for a brief season,
among such poor wayward creatures,
this God yelled,
made it plain this blood-letting
was a divine abomination,
finally dared put God "himself" at issue,
if such doings as this
were "the father's will."
That is to say,
I understand this death not to have been primarily
or in the first place substitutionary,
It did not so much go bail for us,
so we would not have to suffer that way,
as it did invite any who would be followers –
even recalcitrant and frightened and absent ones,
like most of his male friends –
to join in the same mission (Mark 8:31-35; John 15:18-27; Matt. 10:24-39).
Those "trepid ones" were (and are) invited to join the spirit of resurrection
in confronting injustice,
unmasking the powers' mimicry of divinity,
confronting the theological "common sense" of the day
as just another name for complicity with the oppression
And they are to expect the same treatment
and the same end as himself (John 12:10; 16:1-4)
That is not to say
that the idea of Jesus having come expressly
to die for the sins of the world is wrong.
It is to say rather that such an idea is recuperative –
a way of bringing deep meaning out of deep tragedy,
after the fact (Acts 3:17-26; 10:34-43).
It is a theological move that is retrospective.
The gospels present a depiction of Jesus' ministry
as sharply prophetic
and part of a long line of such pointed prophetic challenges
to concentrated wealth and power,
and his death
and part of a long line of prophetic perishing
at the hands of the well-to-do and rapacious
(Matt. 23:1-39; Luke 11:42-52).
In this prophetic scenario,
the perishing is not God's intent
for either the prophets themselves
or for the people who pillory them (Luke 13:31-35).