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By Pastor Paul Gauche

Today’s Word: ‘subversive’ as in… Jesus was a subversive leader in the first century.

I have to tell you straight up that this wasn’t the prevailing image of Jesus that I was handed as a kid. That’s okay, though. It was necessary that I learn to think critically.

If you were to look up the word subversive in the dictionary, you’d find a number of synonyms framing subversive in a negative light. That’s unfortunate. Words like rebellious, seditious, vandalic, rioter, and even deviant detract from a balanced understanding of what it means to be subversive.

Subversive can also be cast in a positive light. That’s fortunate. Seeing Jesus as a subversive leader by calling people to a reformation of heart, mind and life is an enduring and powerful image. Seeing Jesus as the model for renewal and revolution helps us understand his mission of welcoming the kingdom of God among us.

Jesus was a subversive leader in the first century actively working to subvert the established Roman governmental system, the reigning global superpower of the first century. Caesar was the leader and voice of the political, social, governing machine of the first century which loudly proclaimed “might makes right.” The central message was that peace would prevail through power over, not power with. That was supported not merely by threatening death, but by actually putting to death anyone who would dare oppose it. The government even manipulated the religious establishment – the scribes and Pharisees into embracing and enforcing this message within the faith community.

Jesus was a subversive leader in the first century. And revolutionaries are usually subversive. But Jesus’s subversive leadership looked completely different. Jesus was an audaciously kind, extravagantly loving leader. Jesus was a grace-filled, Spirit-driven, endlessly merciful leader. In the context of the prevailing “might makes right” leadership of the first century, Jesus had the power to subvert that message. Jesus’ message was simple: love God, love others, be kind, embody respect, show compassion, share what you have, do justice, listen carefully, and when you speak tell the truth. It was a clear message that “right makes might.” By doing so the kingdom of God is revealed among those who embody that message. The dream of God, the mission of God, the party, the network, the dance, the commonwealth, the revolution of God is unfolding right here, right now, all around us.

Jesus was a subversive leader in the first century. It might be a little discomforting to frame him that way. If that’s true for you like it is for me, we might ask ourselves why that is the case; why that ‘hooks’ us. It’s helpful to think critically about these important things. It’s also insightful to understand the loving intent of his subversive leadership. When we love God and love others, when we practice kindness, embody respect, do justice, listen carefully, and when we speak the truth in love we are being subversive leaders in the twenty-first century.

How do you see yourself as a subversive follower of Jesus today?


Paul Gauche is the Pastor of Life Transitions at Prince of Peace. His posts are part of his #100days50words project, where be blogs about a different word each day. You can follow his project on Instagram (@pgauche), or on his blog, Thriving Rhythms.

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