Marcus Borg (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time) and John Dominic Crossan (Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography) set out to explore the last week in Jesus' life against the backdrop of Roman imperial control. Their purpose is not to attempt a historical reconstruction of what has become known as the "Passion" or suffering of Jesus, but to probe the things Jesus was passionate about. The text they use is the Gospel of Mark, the earliest to be written, the most succinct, and the one with the most time markers for the week's events.
In their comments on Palm Sunday, Borg and Crossan discuss the domination system in Jerusalem that was characterized by political oppression, economic exploitation, and religious legitimation. Jesus was sharply critical of the temple in the city and its collaboration with the domination system. His message was to repent, not in the sense of contrition, but "to embark upon a way that goes beyond the mind that you have." Jesus brought hope to peasants who desperately needed a way out of their misery. His preaching about the Kingdom of God emphasizes the present moment, not life after death.
One of the heroines of Mark is the woman who comes to Bethany and pours oil on Jesus' head. Borg and Crossan point out that compared to the twelve disciples with all their failures, this unnamed woman is not only the first believer, she is also a model leader. Let's hope a few thousand sermons can explore exactly what that means! She stands beside Mary Magdalene, who is described on these pages as "the most important of Jesus' women followers." Here again the rebel from Nazareth went against the grain of both the Jewish and Gentile cultures of his time in which women were subordinated.
The passion of Jesus for the kingdom of God was a threat to the men atop the domination systems. He also spoke about God's passion for justice, something that doesn't seem to go down well in our times either. Borg and Crossan conclude, "Good Friday and Easter, death and resurrection together, are a central image in the New Testament for the path to a transformed self. The path involves dying to an old way of being and being reborn into a new way of being. Good Friday and Easter are about this path, the path of dying rising, of being born again."
Once again Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan have given progressives and other Christians insights into Jesus that expand upon the more common understandings of the meaning of his life and death. Their jouney through the last week of his life is challenging and profoundly inspiring. To walk in this Jesus' footsteps would really be something!