Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Radical Politics of Jesus

The followers of Jesus follow Jesus as their political ruler (i.e., Lord), and the Kingdom of God as their nation. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t involved in the nations we are born in and live in. We are deeply concerned about them, and we recognize that our current welfare is tied to the welfare of the nation we live in. We want peace in our nation, and we want everyone around us to have well-being. This means that we are involved politically. Some of us, by our convictions in following Jesus, do not get involved in partisan politics, or even vote. This doesn’t mean, however, that we are passive. Rather, because we follow the way of Jesus, and that way is the way of political involvement.

Jesus was very involved in politics. He was so involved that the political rulers of his nation—the Sanhedrin of the Jewish nation—determined that he had to be killed. But Jesus never voted, nor did he gather up people to depose the existing rulers. Nor did he participate in making himself well-liked so that he would be declared ruler, nor did he gather an army together to take over the land he called his own. Yet he was very involved—he called himself the King and spoke of his kingdom deposing the evil rulers. In the same way Jesus was politically involved, so his followers are—to this very day.

Political Context: The Unheard Underdogs
Before we discuss the ways Jesus was (and we should be) politically involved, we need to understand the context of Jesus and of Jesus’ followers in the political world. Jesus came from a backwater of Israel, where no one of political significance hailed from. He proposed an unpopular, idealistic platform. He also gathered around him as his party a group of ne’er-do-wells, whom no one with any clout paid attention to. Jesus spoke for those who would never be listened to, and proposed changes that would bring the lowest of people to rule over the highest. Finally, his political strategy for victory was to be persecuted, and so win the favor of only one person—God himself. Although this political context was extremely unorthodox, it worked for him.

Over the centuries the true followers of Jesus obeyed the same context and followed the same political strategy. They were unknowns, representing the weak and helpless, with only God on their side. They had idealistic platforms—the same as Jesus’, actually—and remained unpopular to the majority of people. Nevertheless, they were significant enough to be persecuted by political leaders and to be hated. And in this way, they created political change. Some of the communities who enacted this strategy are known today—the Waldensians, the Franciscans, the Anabaptists, the American Civil Rights Movement. Their strategy was direct and effective—without voting, partisan politics or military might.

How can it be done?
How can such a strategy succeed? How can the unheard of nobodies, even with a charismatic leader, make political change? They follow the method of Jesus’ political involvement, as follows:

Kingdom teaching
Jesus began his ministry with this statement: "The kingdom of God is near—repent and believe in this message" (Mark 1:15) In saying this, Jesus was proclaiming to all current rulers and authorities, "A new nation is about ready to invade. The current rulers have been declared inadequate, and a new rule will start." This upset the rulers, but it also gave hope to the people that the oppression they were suffering under was about to end. And Jesus was offering this new, just, rule to anyone who repented from their injustice and believed in him. Even so, political change is right at the door—for whoever depends on God to believe in Jesus and to do righteousness.

Call to Personal Transformation
Jesus enacted his political change, not by creating a huge social movement, but by dealing with people one by one, calling them to a moral transformation by the power of God. Jesus called people to freedom and well-being, not by the salvations of the world—economics, authority or human laws—but salvation by the power of God (Zechariah 4:6). Jesus said that those who followed him would not only have lives pleasing to God, but also pleasing to themselves—they would have righteousness, peace and joy, all handed to them by God (John 16:20; Romans 14:17). Thus, those who follow Jesus could all truly say, "I am better off than before I followed Jesus."

Speaking against injustice
Jesus made it clear that the rulers of his age were oppressors of the needy, and opponents to those who do good. He pointed out again and again how their laws did nothing but support their personal interests, and cause difficulties for the poor and lowly (Matthew 22-23). This speech did little by itself—the rulers did not listen to Jesus and change their ways, rather it entrenched them in doing their evil. But it displayed them before the people and before God as evildoers, unwilling to change before the word of God.

Most people think of prayer as a religious act, but it is actually the most powerful political weapon that exists. God is the king of the universe, and the Bible says every ruler gains authority or loses authority on his say-so (Daniel 5:21). God is very involved in human politics, and those who can have God listen to them have the greatest political power on earth—greater than any vote, or army. Through prayer, rulers can be set aside, nations can be thwarted and political powers can be overthrown—all by the power of God.

Righteous suffering
The difficult question is: who does God listen to? Does he listen to presidents and prime ministers, or popes and cardinals? Not at all—rather he listens to the lowly who obey his commands. Those who are truly submitted to God and who chose to depend on him, although they have other options available to them—they are the ones God listens to (Matthew 11:25; I Corinthians 1:26-31). Those whom God listens to especially are those who suffer for the sake of following him—he will make changes more readily for them than anyone (Luke 6:22-23; Revelation 6:9-11). And so Jesus—and his true followers—will accept the way of suffering and death in order to make the world a better place for the lowly in God.

Healing and Deliverance
Again, most people understand healings and exorcisms by the power of God to be in the realm of religious power. However, in the ancient world, those who had power over spirits were seen to be politically powerful. For this reason, Jesus’ enemies tried to discredit him (Matthew 12:22-24). You see if Jesus had authority in the spirit realm, that meant that he deserved authority in the earthly realm and would gain it, eventually. Even so, today, as the followers of Jesus heal the physically and mentally ill by the authority of Jesus, it shows that Jesus has greater power than doctors and psychiatrists, and that the whole basis of the health care system is shown to be wrong. That is a powerful political statement—and one that is demonstrated, not just spoken about.

Community example
Finally, Jesus established a community as an alternative nation. Jesus created communities of the lowly, with leaders who seek humility instead of power, with a law of love displayed to all, with people doing good to their enemies instead of perpetuating hatred and everyone giving to the needy in their midst (Acts 2:42-47). He did this for two reasons—first of all, it would show the nations of the world how much better a society ruled by Jesus is than by the powers of the world. But also, he established the communities to take over leadership of the world when his kingdom arrived. When the power of God takes over the world, the lowly people of Jesus, living in peace and benefit to everyone, will take over leadership, while the corrupt rulers of the world are thrown out, forever. (Matthew 5:3-10; Luke 6:24-26)

Use Your Political Clout—
Be Like Jesus!