Toward a Christology of Bar Fights

There's a popular app on Facebook that allows users to name their five picks on a plethora of different topics -- everything from favorite breakfast cereals to best countries in the world (which strangely seems to feature a bunch of cities) to sports teams you love to hate to make-up box essentials. 

A new category I've seen pop up in the last couple of days is "People you want on your side in a bar fight."

And every single one of my FB friends who has picked this five has chosen Jesus as the number one person they'd want on their team.

Now, I spent enough time among the Hauerwasian peaceniks at Duke Divinity School that my knee-jerk reaction to this is to be profoundly alarmed.

On second thought, though, there seems to be room for some rich theological reflection over the question of whether you would choose Jesus to be on your short list of bar-fight co-belligerents, and why or why not.

Because there are really, really bad reasons to want Jesus on your side in a bar fight, and there are really, really bad reasons to be mortified that anyone would choose Jesus to be on their side in a bar fight. And between those poles lies a novel angle from which to examine Jesus' question to Simon Peter: "Who do you say that I am?"

Here's a bad reason to reject Jesus as an ally in a bar fight: Because we think of him as "gentle Jesus, meek and mild," who would never hurt a fly, much less anyone's feelings, and moreover you consider it borderline blasphemous to imagine Jesus in a BAR, because we all know drinking is bad and Jesus would of course would want to avoid the very appearance of evil, ... or, well, okay, you guess maybe it's possible that Jesus could go to a bar (BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN IT'S OKAY FOR US, because he had super temptation-resisting powers and had a really good reason for being there) but if he did, he'd go into one of those nice bars, you know, the ones in university neighborhoods that have 75 varieties of imported beer on tap and host edgy 20-something Catholic discussion groups, not the "seedy" kind of bar, not the kind of bar where something like a (gasp) bar fight might break out. No! Not Jesus! Heaven forbid!

I exaggerate the mindset, of course. But surely part of our hesitance, for we who hesitate, to think of Jesus as an ally in a bar fight is the sheer incongruity of holding our images of "Jesus" and "bar fight" together in our minds at the same time. And yet: he most certainly did go to bars, the dangerous bars with the bad reputations, or whatever the first-century Palestinian equivalent would have been. He pissed people off.  He knocked over furniture. He upset the establishment so much he got himself killed. If we have trouble with the idea of Jesus at (or even in) a bar fight because we think of Jesus as nice, and safe, and inoffensive, we need to go back and reread the gospels.

On the other hand, here's an even worse reason to select Jesus as an ally in a bar fight: Because Jesus is God; and God, by definition, can KICK ASS ... hell yeah I want him on my side in a bar fight! In fact, I'll have Jesus on my team, and you can have my other four picks in addition to five of your own, because we are so going to win. "God plus one is a majority," right? 

Serious, serious problem here: if we want Jesus on our side in a bar fight because he is the super-est of super heroes, it amounts to recruiting the One who is before all things and in whom all things hold together to intervene with his unfathomable power in our personal disputes. And while this might be mildly amusing in the context of a hypothetical bar fight, it has been horrifically destructive over the course of human history. We all want God to be on our side, and human nature being what it is, it's easy to convince ourselves that he is. But when we do, we not only deceive ourselves, we defame our Lord (note the title). If we imagine Jesus as someone on our team to fight our battles and do our bidding, we have majorly missed the point.

Can't decide here whether to quote Anne Lamott ("When God hates all the same people that you hate, you can be absolutely certain that you have created him in your own image") or Abraham Lincoln ("Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side"), so I guess I'll quote both.

Actually, one of the best reasons I can think of to choose Jesus to be on one's side in a bar fight is not that he would have legions of angels at his disposal, but that he might well spend the melee undoing whatever damage my side might manage to inflict on our adversaries. But would we really want the Jesus that we meet in gethsemane on our side in a fight? Sure, we'd like someone who can remain calm in a crisis, and we'd like to flatter ourselves that we would choose a partner who would even do good to those against whom we struggle. But in the heat of a conflict, do we really want to be on the side of someone who loves our enemies and does good to those who persecute us?

What happens next, after the mob comes for the arrest, after Jesus tells Peter to put his sword away, is sobering: 

"At that time Jesus said to the crowd, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then all the disciples deserted him and fled." (Matt. 26:55-56)

Who is on whose side, indeed.


Robin said...

Mom says, "Where's the Wittenberg Door when you need it?"

Athena said...

I'd settle for having Jesus in the Giants' bullpen.

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