The Kingdom of God Is Like a Pirate?

Richard Beck,  Professor of Experimental Psychology at Abilene Christian University​, has one off the most interesting and insightful blogs out there,  Experimental Theology 

And last week he had one of his most head-shakingly brilliant series yet: Jesus and the Jolly Roger. As you can tell by the intro video, it was inspired by Kestin Brewer’s book  Mutiny: why we love pirates and how they can save us.

Brewer’s main thesis is that piracy arises when the common goods have been taken over by the wealthy and powerful. 

17th & 18th century sailors were basically slaves, having often been pressganged into service, and treated horribly,  and used up until they died. Remember the great traditions of the British Navy, “rum, sodomy, and the lash.

Turning pirate was a way to escape and fight back against a violent,  exploitative, and utterly wicked empire  (several of them, actually).

For that matter, popular music and media used to be more free, with 28 year copyrights, not life of the author plus 70. People used to play their own music, they just owned the culture a bit more.

But the big entertainment companies got the laws changed, and now basically nothing will ever become public domain again. 

So the pirates set sail again, less violently, against a much lesser evil. 

Dr. Beck extends the metaphor into the spiritual domain.  In Jesus’s time,  the religious elites in the temple (in Greco-Roman and, more applicably, Jewish life) systems had become gatekeepers of religion, faith, and salvation … gatekeepers of God. 

Jesus bypassed the gatekeepers of empire and temple to bring good news to the outcasts,  the lower classes, the excluded.

Early Christianity was a religion of women, slaves, and the lower classes. 

Dr. Beck gives a much more in depth analysis. You should check it out. 

Blood Shed

Pascal Lamb by Josefa Cordeiro, circa 1660-1670

Pascal Lamb by Josefa Cordeiro, circa 1660-1670

I was in church tonight, and something the preacher said struck a nerve.  He said the animal sacrifices offered in Temple Judaism were not what brought about the forgiveness of sins, but rather an outward, physical reminder of repentance.  That got me thinking.

I don’t want to get into the theology of remission of sins.  Hebrews 9:22 says, “according to the law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness,” but that was within a Christians framework. Ultimately, the writer was pointing his readers toward the blood of God Himself, in the form of Jesus crucified.

What I want to look at is the second part, the reminder.  I think sometimes we find it easy to justify our sins, to make things easy on ourselves.  Sometimes we can’t see the consequences of our actions.  Other times we’re able to turn a blind eye to them.   I know I do.

But those consequences are real, even if we don’t see them. Every cold-hearted word, every missed opportunity to do good or turn the other cheek affects somebody.  Cruelty, moral cowardice, apathy, self-righteousness and callousness corrode our souls, sear our consciences, and make us like salt that has lost its savor.

The ancient Jews didn’t have that luxury.  Their sin offerings came from their own flocks, so they felt a financial impact.  But more than that, their sin offerings bleated and cooed and struggled with their bonds as they were lifted onto the altar.  Their sin offerings were often animals they’d fed, and raised, and sheltered.  Some of their sin offerings may even have had names.

And then the knife fell, and the blood poured from the wound.  When they watched the animal die, they knew their own actions, their own misdeeds, had brought about its pain and death.  They knew, long before gospels or epistles were written, that “The wages of sin is death.” [Romans 6:23].

No, I’m certainly not advocating a return to animal sacrifice.  Jesus was our sacrifice, once for all time.  But I do think it would do us good to think back, to put ourselves in their sandals. I think it would be good to remember what it cost our spiritual ancestors, and what it cost our Lord, Jesus. It would be good to remember that actions have consequences, even if we don’t yet see them.