We all love an exciting “Good conquers Evil” story, don’t we? The Star Wars saga, the Lord of the Rings triology, and the tales of comic book heroes are just a few of many examples. These stories have millions of fans who love to watch the good guys — warriors like Luke Skywalker, the wizard Gandalf, Batman, Wonder Woman, and so on — use their supernatural powers, their fighting skills, and their wits to vanquish those who seek to harm others for personal gain.
Lately, I’ve been wondering if Christianity would generate more excitement and more fervent and constant devotion if people were able to see how Jesus, too, was a warrior. Bishop Robert Barron of the Word on Fire global Catholic media ministry sees Him this way, and I highly recommend watching Episode 1, “Amazed and Afraid,” of Bishop Barron’s acclaimed series of videos entitled Catholicism. In Episode 1, the Bishop reminds us that, like the heroes of popular stories, Jesus possessed supernatural powers: he performed miracles of healing, drove out demons, brought the dead back to life, controlled the forces of nature, walked on water,
Jesus, says Bishop Barron, also came to fight, though he was a “strange warrior” who used unexpected tactics. Watch the Bishop’s intriguing explanation of how Luke’s version of the Nativity story is filled with the motif of “Jesus as the warrior, the one who comes to fight.” For example, the angels who appear at Jesus’ birth are described as a “heavenly host” (Luke 2:13), but the word host is actually a translation of the word stratius, or “army.”
Of course, although Jesus had some things in common with the heroes of popular fiction, He was so much more than those heroes. He was (and is) God. But the point is that today’s common conception of Jesus as nothing more than a paragon of love, gentleness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, healing, and charity leaves out the fact that these qualities — along with His own crucifixion and resurrection — were His unusual and unexpected weapons in His fight against sin and death.
At the same time that we reject images of a purely serene and pacifist Jesus, neither should we accept the image of the militant, sword-wielding Jesus that emerges from Protestant evangelicals’ literal reading of the Book of Revelation. This interpretation of what is actually a metaphorical and allegorical text is incorrect. In addition, according to David Kirkpatrick in The New York Times, evangelicals tend to use it as a threat against anyone who rejects their values and their version of truth.
So, why is it useful to see Jesus as a warrior? For me, it’s a more complete and inspiring portrait of our Lord. Yes, He was kind and caring and contemplative, but He also drove the money changers out of the temple and overturned their tables (John 2:13-16). Over a period of forty days in the desert, He defeated the devil’s temptations (Matthew 4: 1-11). He wasn’t just a thought-provoking teacher who meekly submitted to His own torture and death without resistance. On those final days of His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus was, paradoxically, wielding His most powerful set of weapons to wage war against all of humanity’s flaws. That’s why the image of our broken and bleeding Christ on the cross is the image of victory. “Jesus takes away the sins of the world,” says Bishop Barron, “and that’s how he fights.” Failing to see Jesus in these terms is to “domesticate” Him and miss that He was a warrior who went into battle to save us.