The Politics of Jesus Christ
Updated: Apr 18, 2020
Every day my facebook feed is full of political tripe from both liberals and conservatives, their slings and arrows of outrageous fortune about everything that's wrong in the world and how this or that party is or isn't doing the right things to address them. I don't get involved. Partly, I just don't have anything useful to say, and partly, I know discussion in such a forum is futile and comprised primarily of ad hominem and wild sweeping generalizations. The truth is that politics are complicated and the right approach for our nation is probably quite nuanced. No one person really has the answer. But I do sometimes think about the one person who did and how He would handle our politics today.
I'm speaking of Jesus Christ of course. He gets invoked often in facebook politics. Both sides seem to think Jesus would've agreed with them. But how did Jesus respond to actual politics in His time? In some ways, this is difficult to dissect because "politics" in biblical times was tightly conflated with "religion." Jesus was often very opinionated about the Law of Moses, challenging those in positions of authority because He knew their keeping of the law was perfunctory and lacking empathy. He saw the true heart of the law and applied God's commandments as God intended them. On multiple occasions he "broke" the Sabbath to heal a man, challenging the religious leaders by asking in Mark 3:4, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?" He answered the challenges of the scribes when they asked what the greatest commandment was. He explained the Psalms and interpreted the prophets. In general, whenever He dealt with the religious leaders of the day, He was shrewd and exacting, but look at how He dealt with the woman caught in the act of adultery in John 8. He showed mercy even though the law was clear: an act of adultery demanded death. Does this mean that Jesus always favored grace over law? It's not that simple. Part of the reason Jesus doesn't condemn the woman is that He recognizes the hypocrisy of the rest of the crowd. Look at what He says in verse 7: "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." So the law matters but should be applied with love and equity.
In these religious disputes, Jesus was very much involved in "politics." But I think it's more useful for us to look at how Jesus responded to Roman politics. That's a far more apt corollary to our modern politics, which are entirely divorced from spiritual matters. If I were to sum up how Jesus responded to Roman politics it would be "He didn't." In Matthew 17 and 22, Jesus addresses taxes. In chapter 17, we see that he and Peter pay their taxes so as "not to offend." He doesn't exactly comment on the fairness or ethicality of taxes, other than to say that "the sons are exempt." In chapter 22, He's even more elusive, essentially leaving it to each man to decide for Himself when He says, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's." In reality, it's all God's, but Jesus is indicating that we are to be subject to our authorities. In Acts 1:6, the disciples ask "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" This is a far more political question than it seems because the Jews believed that the Messiah would free Israel from Roman rule and restore the kingdom to its independent stature. Again, Jesus doesn't answer. He says, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority."
Does this mean that we should never care about politics? That we should never be invested? An emphatic no. We have the amazing freedom to contribute to the direction of this country, one might say a stewardship which is our vote in elections and issues. But I think if there's one thing to learn from Jesus it's that we shouldn't be shaped by politics. This world is not truly our home, and I think we often approach politics as if we were trying to make it more so. We want to see God's ways here on Earth, but both authorities and sojourners here are not God's people. We can never expect the unredeemed to live as though they were. There will always be corruption and destitution and poverty and sword. That's the inheritance of sin. And our place in all this mess is to love. To love completely and unequivocally both where it is due and where it is not. To love the way our Savior loved. To love sinners - all sinners. Don't get involved in political debate for the sake of winning the argument. Get involved for the sake of winning a soul. Remember that your highest purpose is not to convince someone about the merits of capitalism but to share the truth of God's resurrection with them and thereby let God transform their life. Jesus almost always used his "political" (and here I'm referring more to the religious political) conversations to lead to something deeper. He was always prodding toward the things of the soul and never missed an opportunity to take discussion from the earthly to the heavenly. That is your mission. Forget about convincing people about mundane political perspectives. Pray for them. Meet their physical needs. Love them. The things of the soul are eternal. Politics change every 4 years or so.