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The Politics of Jesus

November 5, 2018 by

JamesTissot painting, The Sick Were Presented to Him
James Tissot, In the Villages the Sick Were Presented to Him

Political rancor is oppressive today in its animosity and divisiveness. This is evident from the local to the global scale, from the right and left, from the top to the bottom. The modus operandi is to take sides on an issue, and then vehemently mock, deride, blame, or write off anyone who disagrees with you. Increasingly this civil hard-headedness is becoming uncivil – and worse, it is breeding fear and deadly violence in the form of bombs, beatings, and mass shootings. Will we let political discord become our societal Cain and Abel moment, our Waterloo?

Clearly we have to live our lives relationally above politics, in families and in communities, but we cannot bury our heads in the sand and disengage or retreat from civic involvement. The politics of today need a complete transformation, a rebirth of purpose. The best way to achieve that fresh outlook is to consider the politics of Jesus. Even those who do not believe in Jesus as the Son of God and our Savior can learn to appreciate the simplicity and unlikely power of his worldview.

Unlikely and upside-down best describe Jesus’ first extensive teaching from his Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the 5th chapter of Matthew:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The first three blessings chafe our sense of normalcy. Who strives to be poor in spirit or wishes to be in mourning? Who has ambition for meekness? No one wishes to be weak or a failure. But if you are blessed by Jesus in spite of, or perhaps even because of, a weakness, a lack, or a hurt, then it follows that you should bless, not curse, others even when you completely disagree with or dislike each other.

The politics of today need a complete transformation, a rebirth of purpose. The best way to achieve that is to consider the politics of Jesus.

The next four blessings resonate with innate hope and trust in the human longing for goodness, mercy, forgiveness, and justice. The last two strike against political correctness, affirming that it doesn’t matter what people may think of you or what trouble you may get into; as long as you are on the side of God, your reward will follow.

So the Beatitudes present a fine ethos to aspire to for personal relationships, but what about politics and government? Can any teaching of Jesus really inform us how to elect representative leaders in a secular world? After all, Jesus never got involved in earthly politics or power, even though the devil offered him dominion over all the whole earth. Wouldn’t it be better to simply accept the gospel of “separation of church and state” as it was laid out in our constitution?

No. For one thing, our founding fathers had something different in mind with such separation: the freedom to believe and practice faith in daily life without interference from the state, not the complete divorce of faith from the public square, but that is for another discussion. More to the point, the best government – the kind that a free republic such as ours should elect and support – is one that is built from the ground up on healthy personal relationships. Our leaders and laws should reflect the humility, goodness, discipline, and order that we expect of ourselves and our households. How can we demand that of our elected officials if we are disrespectful of each other? There is power in righteousness; God’s power.

JamesTissot, Render Unto CaesarJames Tissot, The Tribute Money

Benedictions are one thing, but worldly politics always comes down to money. Who should pay for what is the breaking point of most political disputes. Well, Jesus had something to say about that. The dishonest law makers of his day tried to entrap him in a politically damaging statement by questioning him on taxes. “They asked him, ‘Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the money for the tax.’ And they brought him a coin. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard it, they marveled; and they left him and went away” (Matt. 22:17–22).

This roast is a classic teaching moment for dealing with a difficult interview. Jesus caught the elitist Pharisees in their own trap. Looking deeper than the tax question, he taught us that it is important to respect and obey the law of the land, but linked that to the supreme command to honor and obey God. God’s kingdom is not of this world, and only our conscience can tell us what we owe him. Caesar’s laws should be followed unless our conscience demands otherwise.

Our leaders and laws should reflect the humility, goodness, discipline, and order that we expect of ourselves and our households.

Jesus will not be boxed into a jurisprudential corner. There is wisdom in this ambiguity that still keeps us guessing (and arguing) about the right way to tax, to vote, which party to belong to, or even a basic agreement on the role of government and law. In matters of this world, diplomacy and nuance are fine, but the vagueness disappears when we meet God’s law and his kingdom.

Jesus told us how to overcome our disrespect, incivility, and discord in his parables, those stories drawn from real life that exhibited his common sense wisdom to all who had “eyes to see and ears to hear.” But stories like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37) aren’t just Biblical artifacts. They happen today. Political arguments might completely cease if we would stop to look and listen to the parables and realities around us: the amazing prenatal pictures on ultrasound machines, the cry of the babies being born in homeless shelters, the millions of hungry kids being fed in our schools instead of their homes, the epidemic of deaths from overdose and suicide, the first responders and officers of the law who face violence and danger to save lives every day, the plight of and – more importantly – the underlying reasons for refugees, and the longing for family and security that should be nurtured by our houses of worship, schools, and community organizations, instead of being destroyed by gangs, drug dealers, and prisons.

JamesTissot, Suffer the Little ChildrenJames Tissot, Suffer the Little Children to Come unto Me

I love the politics of Jesus as exhibited in the Sermon on the Mount, the confrontation of the pride of the Pharisees, and the parables. If we see and hear the transcending power of Jesus politics in our life and the life of the world around us, the uncivil will become civil and the discord harmonious; the crooked straight and the rough places plain. So this Election Day – and every other day – live and vote the politics of Jesus.

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  • Thoroughly enjoyed the Politics of Jesus. Many prayers were answered on 11/6/18.

    Jeffrey Jump