A Review of
Fight Like Jesus: How Jesus Waged Peace throughout Holy Week
Reviewed by Leroy Seat
It is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, as I begin writing this review about a splendid new book about the events of Holy Week– the days we Christians remember during the final days of Lent. As a founding member of the Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor, author Jason Porterfield lived in and served economically poor neighborhoods in Vancouver, Canada, and in Jakarta, Indonesia. He then completed a master of theology degree at Fuller Theological Seminary in 2015 and has now authored this notable book, suitable for reading/study at any time during the year, but it is especially appropriate for the Lenten season and Holy Week.
Most books written about the week of Jesus’s death and resurrection are either scholarly works or devotional in nature. Porterfield’s book is scholarly, but not technical. It is a book that would be helpful for pastors as well as thoughtful laypersons. Several times he cites scholarly works of Marcus Borg and John Crossan, N.T. Wright and Ched Myers, but he also cites the writings of Brian Zahnd, a prominent contemporary pastor/author.
Fight Like Jesus focuses on peace issues of Holy Week in a way that most books about that highly significant week do not. He takes the lament of Jesus, recorded in Luke 19:41-44 as “the interpretative key to Holy Week” (21). Thus, Porterfield asserts, “We desperately need to recover the radical vision of peacemaking that Jesus embodied throughout Holy Week” (23).
In chapters two through seven, Porterfield describes what happened on each day from Palm Sunday to Good Friday and also lists “lessons in peacemaking” from Jesus’s actions and words on each of those days. In the second chapter for instance, Porterfield suggests that “Palm Sunday teaches us three crucial peacemaking lessons… [Christian peacemakers] move toward conflict, extend peace to all people and follow the way of the Lamb” (38-40).
Chapter three, titled “The Whip of Christ,” discusses and dismisses the assertion of some interpreters that when Jesus took a whip to rid the temple of money changers and merchants, he used violence on that fateful Monday. But Porterfield concludes, “Put simply, there is zero credible evidence to support a violent interpretation of Jesus cleansing the temple” (53).
“Traps, Truth-Telling, and Traitors” is the title of the next chapter, and it is the longest one in the book. I found Porterfield’s interpretation of the “seven woes” of Matthew 23 particularly instructive. He points out that in Matthew’s Gospel, the public ministry of Jesus begins with the much-loved Beatitudes (5:3-12), and ends with the much-avoided Seven Woes (23:13-32). These two passages are the “bookends” of Jesus’s public teaching (80-81).
The fifth chapter is based on Mark 11:1-14, the passage about the woman who anointed Jesus with “very expensive perfume.” Porterfield states this as one of the three lessons to be learned from those verses, “Christlike peacemakers contend for peace from the margins of society, and from that vantage point they see the true, destructive nature of violence” (109).
Chapter 6 deals with the events and conversations on Thursday of Holy Week. Porterfield’s most helpful exposition in this chapter is with regard to swords, which are mentioned in Luke 22:36, 38, and 49. He dismantles the claim that the words of Jesus, recorded in verse 36, provide an endorsement of the right to bear arms (132).
Porterfield closes his discussion of Good Friday in his seventh chapter by looking at the first words of Jesus, spoken from the cross as recorded in Luke 23:34. From that prayer of Jesus, the author states that the lesson to be learned is this, “Instead of retaliating in kind, Christlike peacemakers break the cycle of violence by forgiving” (162).
The final chapter deals with Saturday and Easter Sunday under the title “Peace Be with You.” Porterfield concludes the chapter, and the book, by addressing his readers directly. He encourages us to consider how we may implement any insight we’ve gained through reading this work. Since these pages have introduced us to Jesus’s path to making peace, we’re left with one question that remains to be answered, “What will you do with this knowledge?” (179).
This book is certainly beneficial for individuals to read, but it is designed to be read and discussed by groups. At the end of the book there are five or six discussion questions for each of the chapters, as well as guidance regarding how the book can be used for group study from the first Sunday of Lent through Easter. I hope many of you read Jason Porterfield’s fine book during Holy Week this year—and that pastors and church leaders will find ways to incorporate this book into their congregational life in years to come.