Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God: A Ministry of Liberation

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God: A Ministry of Liberation

  1. Review

    The search for the historical Jesus began, the author reminds the reader, with the followers of Jesus of Nazareth who remembered his words and deeds and wrote the four Gospels, fashioning the story of his life to speak to the historical context of their times. He is convinced that we must regard the Gospels as a model for what every generation of Christians must do, "namely, to present the historical work of Jesus as a framework for understanding our own historical vocation as his disciples. "

    William R. Herzog, II, who is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Colgate Rochester Divinity School/ Bexley Hall/ Crozer Theological Seminary in Rochester, New York, has, in this book, made a major contribution to the so called "third" quest of the historical Jesus, which began in the 1970′s. and continues today. He begins his book by putting the "third quest," in historical perspective, which spans the twentieth century. He then presents and examines the models and methods used by scholars in the current quest, emphasizing that the single trait most characteristic of the third quest is the use of the social sciences, which provide new vistas on the world of first century Palestine.

    Building on his previous ground-breaking book, Parables As Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed, which focused on the sayings of Jesus. Herzog maintains that "Jesus of Nazareth cannot be fully understood unless we understand the world in which he conducted his public work and comprehend the prophetic role he played in that world." In the context of the social, economic and political situation of first century Palestine, particularly as embedded in Galilean village life, he proposes to view J Jesus as a prophet of the justice of the reign of God. He devotes four chapters, which represent the heart of his study, exploring the mission and ministry of Jesus in the context of the dominant ruling institutions and ideologies of his day. He analyzes key texts, which point to the "theological ramifications of political, kinship, economic, and social issues" which confronted Jesus, and sees the public activity of Jesus as a "form of praxis, a combination of action and reflection for the sake of changing the world." What Jesus said and did gave people an experience of the justice of God, empowering them to align the life of the village in which they lived, with the "values and practices of the reign of God."

    The concluding chapters are devoted to the final events in the life of Jesus. Herzog argues that Jesus was charged with three crimes: (1) he opposed the payment of tribute to Caesar; (2) he threatened to destroy the temple; and (3) he claimed to be a messianic king. Herzog maintains that the first two charges were essentially true because Jesus was a threat to the imperial power of Rome and to the ruling hierarchy of the Temple. The third charge was false, although it was this charge which led to his execution. He writes, "The cross had put Jesus in his place, a degraded form of punishment for a disgraced person who presumed to criticize the temple ordained by God and the Torah as the oracle of God."

    In the final chapter, entitled A Concluding Unhistorical Postscript, Herzog deals with the meaning of the resurrection for understanding the historical Jesus and the Christology which developed after his death. He states that the resurrection, whether regarded as historical or metaphorical, is "God’s stamp of approval on the ministry of the prophet of the justice of the reign of God." This validation of the way of Jesus affirms that one cannot separate the "Jesus of history" and "’the Christ of faith." The meaning of the resurrection is that the Christ of faith is the historical Jesus.

    Like Herzog’s previous book, this is a ground breaking book which combines historical Jesus research with theological interpretation of his ministry in the context of the political-economic-cultural-religious realities of first century Palestine. It follows that to make the confession that Jesus is the Christ is to commit oneself, in his/her own social, political-economic-religious context, to the vision of justice and a ministry of liberation Jesus called the Reign of God.

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