I was in the shower the other evening after reading a few comments on my earlier post concerning the upcoming Presidential elections and the title of this post (or series of posts) came to me. Besides wishing for thicker skin so as to not feel hurt by angry comments accompanied by fake email addresses, I was wishing the point of my post had come through more clearly.
I am in no way a political guru. Sure, I have read books by the candidates and watched debates and read online about their voting records, but haven’t we all? I don’t think myself a scholar either. I read the Bible, pray, and try to hear from God, but that doesn’t make me different than the rest of you, does it? So these thought are just that: my thoughts… my observations, my convictions, my perspective. Period. Please take them as that.
Politics scare me. Not because I am worried about taxes (though I am) or because I think Obama is secretly Muslim (I don’t) or that Palin is just a pretty face (I don’t). It scares me not from an American standpoint, but it scares me as a Christian…and my fear has nothing to do with the token Christian concerns of abortion and gar marriage.
I just start wondering, where have all of the Christians gone?
I look for them in all of the ordinary places, but find that many of them now identify themselves with either a donkey or an elephant nearly as often as the cross. Everywhere banners are waving and buttons are displayed and tongues are wagging and the message is about this man or that man or against this man or that man. Instead of being a “Christian whose voting for _____” people seem to be referring to themselves as “Republican Christians” or “Democratic Christians”. And even when they aren’t directly saying that the emphasis is on the political association. Just listen to their conversation. You will hear it. And not just from friends or the talking heads on TV or the moms at your play date, but you will hear it (most sadly) from the pulpit.
WWJD bracelets and shirts have ran the gamut of being the most overly used, cheesy Christian paraphernalia. However, the message “What Would Jesus Do?” is one we would do well to dwell on.
So I have been asking myself, if Jesus were alive today, what would he think about this history-making election in the US? Would he be hanging out at the Value Voters Summit noshing on some Obama waffles and having a good chuckle? Would he be interviewed on Bill O’Reilly’s show? Would he be out campaigning and debating the social issues? Or would he be largely silent on these issues we find pressing? If not speaking about politics, what would be His topic of choice?
I am not a huge Dr. Phil fan, but he has a mantra that makes a lot of sense to me: past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.
With that in mind, friends, let’s turn to the Bible to see what, in fact, Jesus did.
JESUS AND THE POLITICS OF HIS TIME
I think we too easily forget that Jesus was born into a very political and volatile time in history. Many Jews were expectantly awaiting the coming of the Messiah that they believed would come to earth on a chariot of fire as a powerful King (can’t you just see it?). They were waiting for Him to come and do away with their oppression and establish a Kingdom on earth from which he would rule the nations. No wonder so many of them missed His coming into the world as a tiny embryo woven together in the womb of a young Palestinian girl!
Jesus grew up learning and knowing intimately the stories of His people. He no doubt heard the stories of invasion and suffering and oppression from His own family. He would not have escaped knowing the political terms and social concerns of his day… and yet, when Jesus began the ministry laid out for Him, He oddly did not even address many of the issues the Jewish people had long hoped the Messiah would come to set right. So much so, that facing his impending death, John the Baptist sent word to Jesus asking, “Are you the Expected One or should we look for someone else?” Jesus’ answer is so telling, “the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” In essence he said, I may not be the one you expected, John, but I am the Expected One. I am not coming to set up an earthly Kingdom that looks and acts and functions just like the existing fallen political systems of humanity. I have come to establish and set into motion THE Kingdom. And he finishes with, “Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me,” for a reason…He wasn’t just not what they expected, He also wasn’t what they wanted.
Growing up reading the Bible, countless times I have wondered about the silence of Jesus. Why when He healed someone did He tell them to tell no one (though they often did)? Why when asked a direct question, did he often answer with a seemingly non-related riddle? Why in the last moments of His life when was asked “are you the Messiah?” did he answer only “you have said it yourself..” instead of shouting at the top of His lungs “I AM HE”? (hold on to this thought, we are coming back to it)
When it came to the political questions of His day, Jesus was cornered numerous times and yet not pinned down. The Pharisees and Sadducees looked for opportunities to ask him highly charged questions and even conspired against him, trying to get him to say something that would justify His murder… they accused him of dishonoring the Sabbath on numerous occasions to which he replied simply “for the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” and even reminded them of an important distinction, “Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath”. They noted he didn’t follow tradition, to which he reminded them that they were “teaching as doctrine they guidelines of men“. They tried to get him to say something against the law of Moses in regard to divorce and He once again took it to the heart level, reminding them of God’s purpose in creating us male and female. They demanded to know by what authority He was ministering and he refused, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things”. They want wanted him to prove himself; to give them signs and he told them the only sign they would get was the “sign of Jonah”. The thought they had had made the perfect trap when they asked if Jewish people should pay Cesar’s tax…I doubt Jesus missed a beat in telling them to note the likeness on the coin and to “render to Cesar the things that are Cesar’s; and to God the things that are Gods'”. Stumped by this, the Sadducees jumped in and asked if the laws of marriage onearth would be applied to heaven. “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures or the power of God…” he rebuked them before pointing out the offices that so define our lives here will not exist there. When the Sadducees were silenced, the Pharisees jumped back in pushing a lawyer to the front of the discussion to ask which commandment was the greatest. We all know the answer Jesus supplied, (paraphrase) “Love the Lord with all you heart, soul, and mind first. And secondly, love your neighbor as yourself. Every other commandment is built on the foundation of this two.” After this Jesus turned the tables on them and started asked a question Himself, ‘Whose son is the Christ?’ They answered with the ‘correct’ lawful answer, “The son of David.” Jesus reminded them of the Psalms where David refers to the Messiah as ‘Lord’ and asks the rational follow up question, “If David calls him ‘Lord’ how can He then be the son of David?” With one fell swoop He reminded these well studied, regimented men of how little they really could grasp and the verse that follows is powerful, “No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question.”
Jesus artfully and intentionally side stepped the political traps laid out by the religious leaders of the day, but what about the disciples? They were as entrenched in political atmosphere as the leaders, although they were unschooled and their questions were less about the law and more about the everyday concerns of the social hierarchy and fasting and the law concerning forgiveness. Jesus answered in unexpected ways espousing that THE Kingdom belonged to most childlike and assuring them that asking to be His right-hand man was getting themselves into something they could not handle. Forgiveness? He tells them a story that sets up forgiveness as a never-ended venture of being like Him.
The final test of Jesus’ apparent A-political stance was at his own trial. Now questioned, not by His followers or the Jewish leaders, but by the highest courts of the land, He remained silent. Charges were brought against Him, answers were demanded, but like a sheep to the slaughtered, He said nothing. He didn’t argue His case. He didn’t explain Himself. He didn’t side with this issue or that. He didn’t point out the wrongs of the religious leaders or the missteps of their traditions. In keeping with his earlier instruction to His disciples, “Every plant that My heavenly Father didn’t plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.”, He prepared to be the fulfillment of the law. He silently prepared to pave the way for THE Kingdom; prepared for His death that would fertilize the soil of His teaching, something so completely above and outside the political scene
Remember the point I asked you to hold on to? Why was Jesus so often silent? Why did He choose to not directly address the issues most Israelis would have listed as being of most importance to them? Why did He answer questions with riddles and stories? Why did He not explain or defend or prove Himself and His ministry?
My 20 year old brother, Matt, is mentally retarded. His physical body is in good shape, but because of head trauma from his biological dad as a young boy, things don’t connect as they should in his mind. Much to the disappointment of Matt, he will never drive a car. Physically he could control the car and steer it without a hitch, but if anything unexpected happened, Matt could not adapt quickly enough and would be a danger to himself and others. Almost daily since Matt turned 15, he he asked my mom “can I drive”? And if not, why? No matter how many times she explains the law and everything else I just explained to you, Matt cannot or will not grasp it.
About a year ago, Mom changed her strategy. When Matt asks if he can drive, Mom doesn’t even say no, she just reminds him to be thankful for all of the things he can do. When he stomps his feet and slams the door and yells “its not fair!”, Mom doesn’t get within 10 feet of mentioning a car, she just reminds Matt of all of the people who can’t walk or ride a bike or speak. When he asks to take the driving test ‘just to see”, Mom redirects him to thinking about all of the good things in his life he gets to enjoy.
Matt will probably never quit asking, truthfully, because of his limitations. Mom is onto to something though…she knows that to keep answering questions about something that seems so important to him will only serve to frustrate him because he cannot understand the reasons for her answers. So she side steps them and instead points Matt to the real issue: his learning to be grateful for his life and thankful for everything God has given him. She brings him back to the heart issue- the real point- the thing that will direct and influence his life so much more than his lack of ability to drive a car.
I wonder in the same way, if Jesus knows our limitations- that even if He could pull back the curtain of eternity and show us the wonder of it- that we wouldn’t get it and that our focus would inevitably return to the peripheral questions of taxes, how to define marriage, and what we owe to our government here and what role we should play in it.
I wonder if we look close enough to what He did say…what He was pointing to time and time again, if we can hear His call to something else? What do the Scriptures mean to tell us by saying “be in the world but not of it”? We know we are in it, but how can we be not “of” it? And if we are not “of” it, what are we to be “of”? What are we to be about? If Jesus wasn’t (apparently) very interested in addressing the politics and the worldly systems that were twisting and turning and evolving in His time, how entrenched in the politics of our time should we be?
Jesus was advocating and teaching about a new system, but it wasn’t a rip off of the old system or any system that had ever existed or ever could exist apart from Him. What was the word on Jesus tongue? What was His focus? THE Kingdom.
In the midst of the social unrest and all of the peripheral questions, many of his contemporaries missed it… and if we aren’t careful, we might too…