“After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” – John 6:14-15
The political career of Jesus was very short. In fact, his intentions were continually misunderstood. The hopes of the Jewish people in Jesus’ day hung on prophesies of a coming ‘messiah’ – and his restoration of their nation. This longing for the anointed leader was thought of in both spiritual and political terms. While Jesus was looked on by many as the promised messiah for Israel – he nonetheless failed to overthrow the Roman occupation and he ran from the enamored crowds who came to ‘make him king by force’. After three years of run-ins with the religious and political leaders of that time Jesus ended his career, though innocent and still radically misunderstood, hanging on a Roman cross between two rebels – a death reserved for insurrectionists. A public crucifixion was not a religious symbol at that time – it was a political statement by the Empire. It was a show of force for the sake of control. Jesus was crucified by the ‘church’ and state of that day. A short career indeed.
Our times are very similar to the times when Jesus walked the earth. Jesus’ work and mission is still deeply misunderstood by many of us. Some of us over-spiritualize Jesus and his coming kingdom – leaving us with a detached, hyper-individualized faith. Others of us over-politicize Jesus and his coming kingdom – confusing our party politics with God’s more long-term view of restoration. This recent election cycle here in the U.S. has brought clearly into view this political interpretation of our Christian mission and purpose. And widespread longing for a political savior and the hope for national redemption is a common theme currently resounding across the nation. I too believe we are in a watershed moment in our nation’s history – but I believe that if we are to truly walk as disciples of Jesus in our time, than our political posture must align with his – it must look more like Jesus and not like the self-seeking maneuvering of the religious leaders in Jesus’ time.
In the book ‘Mobilizing Hope: Faith-Inspired Activism for a Post-Civil Rights Generation‘ – the author Adam Taylor lays out the political landscape of Jesus’s day and how his ministry uniquely cut across the political positions of that time. It gives us a look into how we can be followers of Jesus in our politically-charged day and age. In the book Taylor poses this challenge:
“Leading into each election, people often debate and speculate which political party Jesus would vote for and belong to if he were physically with us today. Both progressive and conservative Christians are guilty of this abuse…[but] Jesus does not fit neatly into an ideology or party platform. The question of Jesus’ political preference is ironic given the degree to which Jesus rejected the overly restrictive political options of his own time…”
The author goes on to say:
“Jesus faced a series of concrete political options during his time. In Jewish culture there were several different worldviews that Jesus developed to please God and respond to Roman oppression. Jesus could have joined the Saduccees or the Herodians, the Jewish religious officials drawn from the wealthy aristocracy who collaborated with the Roman rulers. This choice would have given him great access to power and influence over religious affairs. Instead, Jesus rejected their accommodation with Rome and was an outspoken critic of their hypocrisy. Jesus could have aligned himself with the Pharisees, religious leaders who practiced a strict code of piety, serving as arbiters of the requirements of Hebrew law. The Pharisees would have provided a natural fit for him as a practicing Jew and aspiring rabbi. Instead, Jesus rejected their intensification of the law’s requirements even while he affirmed the values of love, forgiveness, etc., that were behind the law. Jesus could have pursued a monastic lifestyle by joining with the Essenes, who withdrew from mainstream society in the wilderness in order to live a more pure and highly ascetic existence. Yet Jesus refused to separate himself from society and instead chose to make the renewal of the people of God the primary focus of his ministry. Finally, Jesus could have joined the Zealots, who politically opposed Roman occupation and sought to overthrow the Roman Empire through revolutionary violence. Instead, Jesus rejected violence (e.g., Matthew 5:37-39, 26:52) while supporting the goal of liberation for all people through non-violent means.
Sadduccees, Pharisees, Essenes and Zealots were so preoccupied by the political and cultural ideology of their day that they were unable to see or hear Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God. They simply missed it. We risk repeating the same mistake based on the ways in which our understanding of Jesus gets clouded and distorted by our own social location and worldview. Jesus wasn’t at home with any of the ‘parties’ of his day, even though the earth is his and the fullness thereof, and even though he will fully come to abide among his own. Ultimately the great iconic image of Jesus recenters all political and theological imagination in the cross, outside the gates of religious power and on the receiving end of political power. From there he appears to be judged, but in reality he judges all and finds them wanting (Colossians 2:15). The cross becomes the ultimate symbol of subversive and revolutionary power. Jesus triumphs over death only after taking on humanity’s inequity.” (p.79-80)
Could it be that Jesus stands outside our political parties today; outside our political passions; outside our hatred for (or fear of) the government; outside our hatred for liberals… or our hatred for conservatives; outside our self-righteous cults of personality; outside our well-justified support for this candidate or that – and he stares us in the eyes – as he did to his faithful but bull-headed disciple Peter. As Jesus was in custody and progressing through a long night to the cross – Jesus locked eyes with Peter – and a rooster crowed. A rooster – the prophesied sign of betrayal – for a disciple who swore allegiance to Jesus and promised he would never abandon him. And though Jesus would restore him – in that moment of betrayal – Jesus said it all with just one look. He knew what was in Peter – and still today Jesus knows what is in us – having hearts so full of promised allegiance. Hearts that have not yet understood what kind of king and messiah this man will be.
(Original image source: here)
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