I have not watched any of the Olympics, but I am well aware that they are being held in China. This led me to thinking about the solitary individual that is pictured at the bottom of my blog - the man standing before a line of tanks in order to try and prevent them from moving further into Tienanmen Square. This led me to thinking about Jesus, and messianic actions, and the idea of salvation.
On the one hand, it is very easy to compare Jesus to the man standing in front of the row of tanks. Neither Jesus nor this man changed the way empire did business. Rome and its collaborators executed Jesus for his trouble, and in china, well, I believe our hero has disappeared, and his image banned throughout the country. Despite whatever intentions Jesus and the tank man had, it was business as usual for the oppressors and the oppressed after the event.
On the other hand, it is through the life of Jesus and the tank man that we know what salvation is, and how it is obtained in the midst of apparent hopelessness. It is not the probable death of the Tienanmen Square protester that gives us a sense of worth and dignity, or salvation. And it is not the death of Jesus that gives us a sense of worth and dignity - or salvation. It is the actions of such individuals that show us who we can be, and how we can be whole, by insisting upon the worth of the oppressed and marginalized as the standard of creation, as opposed to the standard of empire that insists upon power as the standard.
"But, they ended up dead, and nothing changed," one might say. Well, Followers of Jesus outlasted Rome, and I have a feeling that the bold actions of that individual who stood before the tanks will have a history that surpasses the government that ordered those tanks into Tienanmen. Stalin one responded to criticism from a Pope by asking, "How many tanks hath the Pope?" Indeed, Pilate asked Jesus, "What is Truth?"
I suggest that glimpses of truth are most evident when tanks are challenged and crosses are suffered by individuals who know what the consequences of such actions will be, but voluntarily challenge the power of tanks and threats of execution because they know that we can ultimately be liberated from such oppressive symbols if we stand up to them and expose them as weaknesses of the power elites.
As power elites are exposed, little by little, by those messianic actors who have the heart to take the stage with a script that has no happy ending, we who witness their actions are empowered to liberate ourselves and communities from the actions of empire that would keep us enslaved.
In the United States and much of the western world, the language of Jesus and the Tienanmen Square protester have been co opted by power elites. George Bush compares America to "the light that shines int he darkness, and darkness could not overcome it."
Yet, it is because of Jesus and others that we do comprehend the "light" of empire as understood by Bush, and we will overcome it. We have been shown the way by Jesus, and Perpetua and Felicitas, by Joan of Arc and by martin Luther King Jr. We have been shown the way by a Tienanmen Square protester who stood his ground. Yet it is not the death of these individuals that shows us what salvation looks like, but their life. Our witness should always be to life, and never death, as the standard of salvation.