You would think that someone like Jesus–whose life and work has literally impacted hundreds of billions of people throughout world history–would have been welcomed with open arms during his own day from every sector and corner of life. The reality is, while a great many did embrace him, there were plenty who did not. And the reasons were often political.
Ok, but does that even matter? Wasn’t Jesus apolitical? Well…yes and no. No he did not set up an exact replica of the kingdoms, governments or empires of his day. He did not sit on a throne. He did not lead a massive army. He did not maintain a national boundary line. He did not do a lot of the usual things that we imagine political leaders do.
But while that is true, Jesus was political.
Since politics refers to power and how power is demonstrated through a leadership body and through individuals, it can be accurately said that Jesus was political. He did come to lead people and his way of leadership affected every facet of his own life and the lives of the people he was leading.
If that is not political, I don’t know what is.
So what were Jesus’ political views in a nutshell?
Here’s a short list.
1. Leadership and Power
Leadership and power are not a display of force or coercion, but a demonstration of self-sacrificial service to others for their benefit.
2. Fellow human beings
For Jesus, love of God and love of neighbor go together.
Love of neighbor includes even enemies.
Love of neighbor also includes extending yourself to those outside your own people group, tribe or nation.
Jesus taught that he came to bring good news to the poor, those without their basic needs met like food and shelter.
Jesus treated women with equal worth and purpose in God’s family.
7. Creative Prophetic Re-imagination
Transformational change happens best through creative prophetic re-imagination.
It was Jesus’ political views that led to most of the conflict he endured in his life, including the incident on the Sabbath in his own hometown.
In the Gospel of Luke we are told that after Jesus was tempted by the devil, he went back to his hometown of Nazareth and attended his synagogue on Sabbath. On this particular Sabbath, it was his turn to get up and do the Scripture reading. While not a formal teacher of the synagogue, Jesus, like many community members, was given the opportunity to get up and read from a portion of the Hebrew Scriptures from time to time. While this was not the first time he had gotten up to read, it would be his last.
The portion he read was in the book by Isaiah the prophet, in chapter 61:
The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me, to tell the poor good news. He has sent me to announce release of the prisoners, and sight to the blind, to set the wounded victims free, to announce the year of God’s special favor.
After reading the first few lines in the chapter, he claimed aloud that this Scripture had now been fulfilled in their hearing. The response of the community is telling.
At first they praised him, but then what seems to be praise turned violent. And the straw that broke the camel’s back was not in his claim that God had anointed him, but in what he claimed God had anointed him to do. Remember that list we just read in Isaiah 61 about the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the wounded? Jesus claimed that, not only would that list of people include fellow Israelites, this list would include known enemies of Israel.
Here lies the rub.
First century Jews had been longing for the day when their God would overthrow the foreign nations and empires who had been oppressing them for hundreds of years, Rome being the most recent empire. They also believed that God would restore their nation back to them. So how could that happen, if as Jesus was claiming, their God was going to heal and restore their very enemies?
“Surely, Jesus is a false prophet.”
What Jesus believed and imagined God to be like did not fit their values or current worldview, neither their interpretation of the Biblical narrative.
But Jesus’ mission from God was to bring good news, healing and wholeness to Gentile peoples and nations. People within Jesus’ own hometown, within his own synagogue, got so angry at hearing this, they rushed toward him, escorted him outside and nearly pushed him off a cliff.
The rub: God is more inclusive than we imagined
In today’s politically and religiously hostile climate, I wonder sometimes if we are making enemies out of the wrong people, and the people who actually are enemies, we need to find creative ways of loving like Jesus did.
Being inclusive for Jesus did not mean tolerating everything. What is interesting though is that when it comes to intolerance, the very things Jesus was most intolerant about are not the things many Christian people today say he was intolerant about.
Jesus was most intolerant with those in religious power who used their position of power and influence to marginalize, control, boss around and generally exclude people from the spiritual community of Israel merely because of their religious background, nationality, tribe, gender, health or financial situation.
I wonder, if Christian individuals and churches were more inclusive like Jesus and more intolerant about the actual things Jesus was intolerant about, then would we, perhaps, also face the same kind of fate he did.
By our own people…our own families…our own hometown…our own churches?