The Politics of Jesus

5 02 2020

Politics of JesusTo be clear at the outset, Jesus and the Gospel are nothing if they are not political!

When the Gospel according to Matthew tells the story of the magi’s visit to the Christ-child, Herod the Great, the Roman client king of Judah, has his fears put on display for all to see.  Rome, and the governing powers of the day, were afraid of Jesus.  Especially Herod.  Why?  Because the message of Jesus challenged Roman authority, and sought to lift up a different kind of ruler and different kind of ‘kin’dom.

And why in the Gospel according to Mark does Herod the Great’s son, Herod Antipas, have John the Baptist killed?  Because John sought to hold the Roman politician to a higher standard.  Herod Antipas had illegally married his brother’s wife, and John was not about to avoid challenging behavior that he believed to be contrary to the ways of God – even the behavior of a Roman official.

In Luke’s version of the Gospel stories, we read about Jesus’ Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem, from the east, and on a donkey.  And while we don’t often hear sermons about why, most scholars agree that Jesus was not just setting himself in contrast with, but in opposition to, the Roman leaders of his day.  He did not arrive on a warhorse, nor did he enter the city through the main gate, the Damascus Gate, on the Northwestern wall of the city – the gate through which most military leaders and political dignitaries would enter when visiting from Rome.  No!  Jesus was challenging all of that.  The kindom to which Jesus was pointing embraced a politics that challenged empire; and the new world order which he came to inaugurate would make his followers citizens in the Kindom of Heaven before any tribe or nation found in this world.

And finally, at the very end of his life, the Gospel according to John reveals that it was Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, who sentenced Jesus to death.  That’s why Jesus was crucified on a cross.  That was the Roman means of execution: as opposed to stoning, which was how the Jewish people put criminals to death.  Jesus’ crime was sedition.  And the powers in Rome knew that he was a threat to their authority and way of life.  His message was about so much more than simply challenging the traditional practices of the Hebrew people.  In rejecting many of the outward religious laws involving diet, sacrifices, and personal morality, Jesus embraced a new politics – one that challenged those in power, and that lifted up those on the margins of society!

Yes!  To be sure, Jesus and the Gospel were, and remain, political.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all make that powerfully clear.  Herod the Great and Herod Antipas were both afraid of his message because of the ways it challenged the empire; and in the end, it was that message that led to Jesus being crucified by Rome!  It was all VERY political!

So why is the Church today so afraid of politics’?  We Americans acknowledge the importance of there being a separation between Church and State, but Church and faith are two different things.  And our faith is all about our life in the ‘polis’ – in community.  So we MUST be concerned about the treatment of immigrants and refugees.  We MUST be concerned about justice issues, and any matter that deals with a nation’s treatment of women, minority communities, or people who embrace differing belief systems.  And we most certainly must be concerned with truth, honesty, character, and integrity.

John Howard Yoder, in his 1972 book “The Politics of Jesus”, said that “Jesus gave (his followers) a new way of life to live. He gave them a new way to deal with offenders — by forgiving them. He gave them a new way to deal with violence — by suffering. He gave them a new way to deal with money — by sharing it. (And . . .) he gave them a new way to deal with a corrupt society — by building a new one . . .”

This “new order” must involve both the government, and the politics, of the day.

There is no question that partisanship in the Church must be avoided, but may we never avoid politics.  For politics is at the heart of the Gospel.  And if we don’t want to hear to hear about politics in the Church, then just know that it will be impossible to hear the Gospel either!  For the two go hand in hand.  And you can’t have one, without the other!


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2 responses

5 02 2020
Marilym Warren

Indeed! Amen and amen!

5 02 2020
David Edmunds

Preach it Bob!!!

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