Jason Porterfield, author of Fight Like Jesus: How Jesus Waged Peace Throughout Holy Week

“Contending”, with Jason Porterfield

~ing podcast Season 2 Episode 9
Full Episode Transcript

Season 2 Episode 9: “Contending”, with Jason Porterfield was released on March 8, 2022. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.

Episode Description:

What if—despite all our familiarity with the events of Holy Week—we still don’t know how Jesus makes peace? And what if—despite clinging to the cross of Christ for our salvation—we’ve actually embraced a different approach to peacemaking? On this week’s episode of ~ing Podcast, host Allison Maus sits down with Jason Porterfield, author of the recent book, Fight Like Jesus: How Jesus Waged Peace Throughout Holy Week, available now from Herald Press.
We have arrived at the liturgical season of Lent. This timely conversation helps us unpack themes from Jason’s book, and explore the day-by-day scripture account of Jesus’ final week. Our hope is that we will discover anew why Jesus is called the Prince of Peace, and be introduced to a resource to help people of faith navigate this time of year as we move toward Holy Week and the Easter Season.

Allison Maus, Jason Porterfield, Ben Wideman

Ben Wideman  00:00
Welcome to Season Two of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine.  What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus? Each week ~ing Podcast invites you to join us on a journey. Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… People who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world.

Jason Porterfield  00:27
When I started writing this book, I never could have imagined just how divided our country would become… how divided the United States would become. The vitriol and the enmity, they are endemic now. But yet, as I’ve talked to people who’ve read the book, thus far… a number of them, the majority of them not from a peace church tradition, I’ve been really encouraged to see them grappling with the content of this book.

Ben Wideman  00:54
Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together.

Allison Maus  01:00
Hello, everyone. It’s Allison, and welcome to another episode of ~ing Podcast today. I am here with Jason Porterfield. Hello, Jason.

Jason Porterfield  01:10
Hi Allison. Great to be with you.

Allison Maus  01:11
So glad that you’re here. We’re gonna talk a little bit about Jason’s work, his writing… He wrote the book Fight like Jesus: How Jesus Waged Peace Throughout Holy Week. And I’m very excited to get into that. But first, Jason, will you just introduce yourself to our listeners so they can know a little more about you?

Jason Porterfield  01:31
Yeah, well, I have no fancy titles… You know, primarily around here I’m known as Mika, Luke, and Jonno’s dad. You know, I spend like many of your listeners probably I, I spent a couple hours each day chauffeuring my kids to their respective schools and stuff. I attend a Friend’s Church, so a Quaker church, and volunteer a lot there, when I’m not writing during the day. And then I’m also on the board for missions group that my wife and I used to be a part of, and that group is called Servants. It’s a international network of Christian communities that live in the slums primarily, of some of the big mega cities of Southeast Asia. So they live and minister with the poor in the slums. And we were part of that group. First, actually, in Vancouver, Canada, which was kind of a half sending office, half trying to live out in the west, what would they have been doing for 25 years in the slums of Asia. And then after three years in Vancouver, we were in Jakarta, Indonesia for a season, and now are down in Texas.

Allison Maus  02:25
I’m curious, what got you into… I don’t know, the business of peace? Of, right, you talked a little bit about your your travels, and you’re living out a life of mission. Was that something that you learned as a small child, or something that you came upon later?

Jason Porterfield  02:44
Yeah, it was in my college years. So my parents were both in the military. So I grew up living all over the place, but eventually settled in Pennsylvania, and attended a pretty patriotic church, but yet a church that loved Jesus dearly and taught me to really value the scriptures. And then in college, I attended Messiah College or now it’s called Messiah University. And it was there at this historically Anabaptist school, that a number of my friends who grew up Mennonite, Brethren in Christ, began to really just have deep intense conversations, theological conversations, you know, staying up real late talking about when Jesus says “Love your enemies,” doesn’t that mean don’t kill them? And I remember just a number of really heated conversations, but good conversations, and then afterwards, they would introduce me to like Dutch Blitz, where they would get very violent and playing that game. So that was where I really first started to grapple with those issues. When I joined Servants, by that point, I already felt like my calling was to be a peacemaker, in the sense of I felt like God was asking me to contend for the flourishing of a very beautifully broken communities. But Servants, actually, which was started out in New Zealand back in I think, ’82, they didn’t originally have a commitment to nonviolence, but because they were living with the poor, they pretty quickly realized how the poor are disproportionately affected by violence. And so they actually have a very strong commitment to nonviolence now, and so began to learn a lot to some of their more long term members.

Allison Maus  04:14
As I listened to that answer, I’m I’m curious about how the different contexts you were in understood peace, or understood like the relationship between, you know, peace being at the core of faith. You know, coming from a US context, it feels like there are often times where you see, you know, statements that are like “God and guns,” that feel very contradictory to what you’re trying to share in this book that we’re going to talk about.

Jason Porterfield  04:49
This divide between evangelism, maybe you would say, or, you know, my church growing up… it was verbal evangelism and doctrinal discipleship, was what they would say. And this idea of peace and justice, it was very divided. It’s heightened, at least in the US, it can be present certainly in different Christian traditions and other countries. You know, I don’t tell this story in the book. But after about a year in Vancouver, we came back to have a missions booth at Messiah College for their missions weekend. My my home church, while I was in Pennsylvania, asked if I would share and preach that Sunday. And a couple days beforehand, my one of my teammates, Craig Greenfield, he came bursting into my room and he said, “Guess what day it is! Guess what day they asked you to preach!” And I said, “I don’t know is like mid-November?” He said, “It’s November 11. It’s Veterans Day!” I was like, oh man, because my church knew, you know, I had a nonviolent stance, was a pacifist. Surely they didn’t realize the Sunday they asked me to preach on, and I didn’t realize until it was too late. And so there I was, in the service, a number of people in their military uniforms, numerous patriotic hymns were song, pledge allegiance to the American flag, and then a Christian flag, that were brought in. And then soon after was my turn to preach, you know, 397 Americans, and then two Kiwis and an Aussie that were my teammates sitting in the back pew, right next to the exit. They said they’d be there for moral support, but you could tell they’re ready for a quick escape. And, you know, I spoke gently, but talked about whether you believe violence is the last possible option that Christians should use, or you believe it’s never permissible, let this day remind us to try to work together to work for peace in all the conflicts in the world. And, to their credit, the vast majority of people in my church, obviously, heard that message well. But though… I did lose financial support, and there were a number of individuals who said that this talk about loving your enemies and peace, has nothing to do with the gospel, so that there are certainly there’s that conversation that’s more heightened in the US than in other countries.

Allison Maus  06:54

Jason Porterfield  06:54
But what I wish they knew that November 11, has historically, the church has paused on that day for centuries, to remember the life of a Christian who refused to fight – St. Martin of Tours. And so I think that day actually stands as a stark reminder of how the Church has held very differing views on this issue.

Allison Maus  07:14
Oh, it’s so interesting. I didn’t know that piece of history. As I thought, uh, you know, I’ve read a little bit of your book and thought about this. I was like, yes, yes, absolutely. Yes, this is great. So it’s hard for me to think about this being radical. For some people. I just think about, you know, the the current context that we live in and the importance of having this conversation about what does it mean to be peacemakers. Can you be a peacemaker in some contexts of your faith and not other parts of your life? I’m just grateful to have this resource in this conversation. I’d love to talk more about your book. Why do you think this this book is important or needed in the world today?

Jason Porterfield  08:00
Sure. So Fight Like Jesus… So it goes day by day through Jesus’s final week, through Holy Week, showing how Jesus confronted injustice called out oppressors contended for peace on each day. Even Saturday, between Friday and Sunday, Easter Sunday. And, you know, when it comes to Christian books on peacemaking and nonviolence, I’ve found that they tend to fall into one of two categories. Either they’re apologetic in nature, in the sense that they, the content of the book is determined by the objections that are raised by those who don’t hold the view. And there’s a place for such books. Or the other category of books on Christian peacemaking, tend to expound upon some of Jesus’s classic peace teachings. So the majority of Christian peacemaking books, look at the Sermon on the Mount, because it contains the core of Jesus’s peace teaching. But what I’ve found is that Holy Week is special because it’s the main stage on which we get to see Jesus put all of this previous peace teaching into action. So I think back to my time at Messiah College, and a class I took an education and I learned about Dale’s Cone of learning, I think it was called. And the top part was like, you remember 5% of what you hear. So you listen to a lecture, you’re going to remember 5% You remember 10% of what you see, you remember 20% of audio visual input, so what you see and hear, but you remember, 30% I’m making these numbers up, but I have the order, right?

Allison Maus  09:27

Jason Porterfield  09:28
You remember 30% of what you see demonstrated, and that’s what I think is so special about Holy Week. Throughout those most sacred days, we get to see Jesus demonstrate how he would went about waging peace. So those formerly abstract principles like be merciful. They find concrete expression during Holy Week and those lofty ethical ideals like Love your enemies, they become grounded in actual events. And when I was living in Canada’s poorest urban neighborhood, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, I had Jesus’s peace teaching memorized, I could quote from the Sermon on the Mount. But for example, in the messiness of of everyday life, I didn’t know how do I love my enemy, and my neighbor, when my enemy is currently oppressing my neighbor. And that’s what I found, is the beauty of Holy Week. It basically says, “Come. And let’s learn from the greatest peacemakers greatest week.” And so as far as I know, there’s not another book like this. It’s a training manual on peacemaking. But it is also a commentary on Holy Week.

Allison Maus  10:29
I obviously have not read every book in the world, but it does feel unique to focus on Holy Week. In my context, I get to be in charge of the Monday Thursday service. So that’s the first chapter I immediately jumped to, I was like, “Okay, let’s get, let’s get going. What new things I might be able to take in to create a service around?” And I really appreciated that. Yeah, you comment on the easy parts of the texts that I would naturally choose to preach on because they feel approachable. But you also did not shy away from some of the texts that I wouldn’t want to wrestle with in front of a congregation or with a congregation. Because I do think there’s divisiveness there. And so yeah, I really appreciate that. It holds both, so gracefully, at least in that, that chapter that I’ve already read.

Jason Porterfield  11:26
Well, thank you, Allison. Yeah. You know, even though the book is not apologetic in nature, it’s interesting that a number of the passages that people who object to a nonviolent stance, they are passages found in Holy Week. So Jesus is cleansing of the temple on Monday of Holy Week, Jesus is telling us disciples if you don’t have a sword, so your cloak and buy one that’s from Thursday. So that’s, to me what you were talking about. Yeah. So I dive right into those and try not to ignore those passages. Also, on Tuesday, which actually is the most talked about day of Holy Week, the one that probably most of us couldn’t name a single thing that happened, right?

Allison Maus  12:02

Jason Porterfield  12:03
You know, Matthew’s coverage of Tuesday of Holy Week is more than his coverage of all the other days of Holy Week combined. It’s twice as long as as the three chapters he dedicates to the Sermon on the Mount. And so when I wrote on that day, there’s no way I could cover everything that Jesus said. So my strategy was to choose a passage from each of the days three scenes that are the ones that people have traditionally used to try to undermine Jesus’s peace stance. And I said, let’s, let’s see how these passages aren’t just, let’s not just neutralize those passages. But let’s see how these passages actually advance our understanding of how Jesus makes peace.

Allison Maus  12:41
Yeah, and I appreciate you do it in a way… it’s not like, alright, peacemakers, here’s your ammo to then turn around and throw it at the people who disagree with you. But there are real invitations to… alright, you have to hold these too, you can’t just ignore them. I’m wondering if there are, if there’s a question I have in here about, like self-righteousness and how it gets in the way of peacemaking too, right? How do we, how do we escape that sense of, oh, I’m on the right side, or I’m going to go in here and be a savior to to this community that I’m entering in? Because I do feel like there’s… there’s commentary in Holy Week of Jesus, you know, exhibiting great humility.

Jason Porterfield  13:33
One of the fascinating things about Holy Week for me, is one of the big takeaways for me, as I studied Holy Week is just how active Jesus was in his efforts to wage peace. And when you just look at his peace teaching elsewhere in the gospels, there’s that debate that many Anabaptists have, have had, and many Christians have had. Is peacemaking more of a passive stand back, don’t get involved, or is it an act of contending and waging for peace to cultivate God’s Shalom? But when you look at Holy Week, I think there’s the debate settled. I mean, Jesus was so active in his waging of peace. So yeah, Monday, you know, with the cleansing of the temple. So I talk, there’s a whole section where I look at the, the different variables to determine, you know, did Jesus whip people or was he using the whip just on animals? And for time sake, I won’t go into all that, but but I would say, you know, that account actually advances our understanding of how Jesus makes peace. It shows that when injustice was going on, Jesus didn’t just sit idly by and do nothing. But he was willing to contend for the marginalizing of those who are corralled in the court of the Gentiles. This court that was not originally part of the Temple’s blueprint and and after he drives out the animals and the money changers and and the animal sellers, it says that the poor and the lame came in and children could be heard singing. These groups that were usually excluded from the temple. On Tuesday, there’s that passage, The Seven Woes. Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. You know, this comes across as very fiery language. And so I look at that passage and you know the word that gets translated as a “woe,” that’s a good translation, because it’s a warning, but it’s a sorrowful warning. And, and so in that passage, you talked about self righteousness. And there’s a danger in that for us, I think. And so when I reflect on that, on The Seven Woes passage, I talked about how Jesus spoke those who rose from a position of powerlessness to those who had the power to kill him and did. And so I think so often, those Seven Woes, we manipulate them to give us justification to call out the splinter and our brother or sisters I and ignore the plank on our own. But as someone who you know, I’m a white educated male, who is part of one of the countries with the largest economies, biggest militaries. For me, the lesson, the takeaway from the Seven Woes is to not be self-righteous, but rather to be willing to listen and consider when others speak such woes over me.

Allison Maus  16:11
You’re just making me more and more excited to read the rest of your book! Which is good, right? I’m curious, as we start Lent, how might people use this resource as a, I don’t know, a guide to help them journey through Lenten Holy Week?

Jason Porterfield  16:29
Oh, great question. Yeah. So going back to Dale’s Cone of Learning, you remember the 30% of what you see demonstrated, but you remember 50% of what you discuss with a group. I remember that was the next level.  Yeah.  And, and so this book, like many books from Herald Press, it has discussion questions that we’ve written for each chapter, for each day of Holy Week that are at the back of the book. And there’s also a schedule for groups wanting to go through the book during Lent. It works out well to be able to read a chapter for each Sunday and lead through Easter Sunday. One of the things I would add, though, is if you want to use this book, as a Lenten Bible study, is that, you know, most books on Holy Week dedicate the majority of their pages to Friday and Easter Sunday, and that’s understandable. You know, it’s the main event. But the gospel writers did the opposite. They front loaded their coverage of the week, and I tried to be respectful of their choice to do that with this book. And so like I said, Tuesday was the most talked about day of Holy Week in the gospels, so Tuesday’s the longest chapter in my book, for example. And you know, I think, in our in our rush to get to the cross, which is understandable. We often, you know, we celebrate Palm Sunday, and then we do nothing else until Friday, or, at best Maundy Thursday. So, as a result, the events of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, they get brushed aside as incidental. But one of my deep beliefs is that you know, on Palm Sunday, this is what starts the whole book is it says, as Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the crowds were shouting cheers. But Luke says that Jesus was shedding tears. And when he could hold his grief back no more, he cries out, if only you knew the things that make for peace. That was what was at the forefront of Jesus’s thoughts as he entered into his final days, and all the way until Easter Sunday when twice he declares Peace be with you. I believe Jesus was spending each day contending for our peace, and seeking to correct the misguided methods we use to make and maintain peace. And thus, when he said things in the plural that make for peace, he was revealing that we can’t reduce his peacemaking efforts to just one solitary act, the cross, which is what I think we often do, but rather Jesus was crucified on Friday, precisely because of how he contended for peace on the days leading up to Friday. And my concern is that when we fail to realize that we might cling to the cross of Christ for our salvation, but yet not realized that we’ve embraced the very approach to peacemaking, that justified nailing Jesus to that cross. And so I would hope if for those who use this book as a Lenten resource, that they would really dig deep into those days that we tend to ignore the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, even Thursday, and silent Saturday as well, so much to learn on that day.

Allison Maus  19:18
It feels like this conversation of peace, this stance and posturing of peace is outside the norm in Christian culture here in the United States. And it feels like we’re told the opposite, that, you know, we’re justified in holding arms, and fighting for God and country. So I’m curious as you seek to teach people about peace and offer hope toward peace. What keeps you optimistic?

Jason Porterfield  19:58
I think what keeps me optimistic is that, you know, God did a transforming work in my own heart on this issue, from my growing up years to where I am now. And I’ve seen him do that as well and others, is it the majority of Christians in the US that I’ve seen have this change? No. And it’s certainly not the loudest voices either. You know, when I started writing this book, four years ago, I never could have imagined just how divided our country would become… how divided the United States would become… the vitriol and the enmity that are… they’re, endemic now. But yet, as I’ve talked with people who’ve read the book thus far, a number of them, the majority of them not from a peace church tradition, I’ve been really encouraged to see them grappling with the content of this book. I think, you know, on Friday’s chapter, I talk about this choice between Barabbas and Jesus Barabbas. His name “Bar Abbas” means “Son of the Father” and Matthew gives us his first name Jesus. So Jesus, Son of the Father, and Jesus, the Nazarene were presented with these two alternative Messiahs. The one had been in jail, because he murdered someone in a past insurrection. And then there’s Jesus who refused to fight and called his followers to lay down their swords. And we’re presented with this choice, will we choose the one that although he failed, at least he had a proven track record that he’d fight for our freedom fight on behalf of his people, his country? Or will we choose the way of Jesus? And maybe I’m naive, but I hope that as readers see this stark choice, and there are two alternative options. To embrace the Barabbas way of peace is to reject the Jesus way and to reject the Jesus way of peace. You have to start to accept the Jesus way of peace, you have to reject the Barabbas alternative. And my hope is that readers when they see that will say, “Yeah, I’m seeing this with new eyes.” And I my hope is that their commitment to Jesus trumps even their loyalty to country,

Allison Maus  22:04
I wonder if you have a hope or a benediction to share with those with the Church that is seeking peace?

Jason Porterfield  22:15
My hope, is that this book will inspire and equip those who read it, to continue cultivating God’s shalom, especially in places where it’s painfully absent. Having read a number of other books on peacemaking learn so much from them, my hope is that this book will help fortify those who already have a commitment to peacemaking and nonviolence to… to learn from Holy Week, you know, to… to learn how Jesus waged peace throughout those days. Conversation that I think we haven’t given us much attention to. So hopefully, it will strengthen and increase the resiliency of for peace churches, who already had this commitment to nonviolence. And then, you know, I didn’t just write this book to preach to the choir. And so my hope is that it will also be read by many outside of historic peace church traditions, and that they too will grapple and consider what you know, Jesus is called to love your enemies and to be willing to refuse to kill, but be willing to be killed.

Allison Maus  23:20
I’m wondering if you can share, do you have a social media, website, or a way people can follow along with future projects or learn more about this book?

Jason Porterfield  23:30
Yeah, the best place to go is just JasonPorterfield.com. And there, they can actually even download the first chapter of this book for free to read. I also have another resource there called “100 Early Christian Quotes on Not Killing,” and that’s a free downloadable PDF as well. That and you know, reflections and articles and blogs are also there. You can follow me on Facebook at Jason G. Porterfield, and I’m on Instagram @JG_Porterfield.

Allison Maus  23:57
Well, Jason, I want to say a huge thank you for sitting with us and having this conversation. Like I said, I’m very excited to read the rest of your book. I do think it’s gonna be a resource that I turned to this blend and this upcoming Holy Week. So thank you for sharing more.

Jason Porterfield  24:15
Thanks for having me. It’s been a joy.

Ben Wideman  24:22
This year, the season of Lent corresponds with Women’s History Month. Here at ~ing Podcast, we’re excited to be bringing you the voices of several women over the next few weeks. Next week, we’ll be joined by the creators of The Soil and the Seed Project. These resources help establish new rhythms of faith as we together turn toward Jesus. We hope you enjoy.  As always, we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review on your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something thing to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at MennoMedia.org.