Political parties attempt to recruit Jesus as a spokesman for their platforms from time to time. This is nothing new. On one occasion, Jesus miraculously fed 5,000-plus people by multiplying five loaves and two fishes. Some people in that crowd suddenly realized that Jesus would be a great leader for their cause. They tried to make Jesus king by force. He declined the invitation.
Jesus was faced with several political choices. His own people were subject to the sometimes harsh rule of Rome, which motivated various groups to respond in different ways. One group was convinced that violent resistance was the only acceptable course. After all, were they not to be ruled by God alone? This group was deeply committed to throwing off the Roman yoke even if it meant shedding blood. They were called Zealots.
Jesus rejected the politics of violence. He refused to engage in brutality or terror in order to build his Kingdom. The politics of violence is still alive and well in our world today. Based on Jesus’ actions and teaching, we are persuaded that he would reject the politics of violence and intimidation today, too.
Near the place where Jesus fed the 5,000 another group made their home. This group saw only evil in both Roman rulers and in the leaders of their own people Israel. They rejected any kind of real participation in the politics of their day. They withdrew into the wilderness and formed their own community, pursuing only personal religious goals. They were called Essenes.
Jesus did not join the Essenes. He was not absent from the public debate nor was he afraid to face the leaders of his people with challenging ideas. The politics of withdrawal is practiced in our world, too. Some groups see political participation as something beneath them, and so they avoid becoming entangled in the complex problems of this world. We are persuaded that Jesus would not be a recluse from society today.
Other groups in the first century were more pragmatic about politics. Rome was the center of power and likely to remain so at least into the foreseeable future. Given the realities of the situation, why not deal with Rome on Rome’s terms? This group compromised and served the Empire. They shared power by collecting taxes for the occupiers. As a result they made bitter enemies among their own people. To be called a Tax Collector in first-century Israel was not a compliment.
Jesus did not join the Tax Collectors. In fact, he refused to compromise with anyone about anything. He claimed to have an independent and superior authority: God. That claim disturbed those who were invested in the established power structures. They recognized that Jesus represented a threat to the status quo. Nevertheless, Jesus refused to soften his message in order to make friends with the powerful people of his day. We cannot imagine that Jesus would compromise his message today.
Some may wish to argue that Jesus was not political at all, that he was only a religious philosopher or teacher. But he was political enough to frighten both the Jewish and Roman officials. They conspired against him and executed him, hoping to get him out of their way. Ironically they were merely tools in the hands of God, used to advance his Kingdom, the very Kingdom that Jesus was working to establish. The Kingdom of God challenges the politics of this age, both first century and twenty-first century politics.
True, Jesus did not join the Zealots or the Tax Collectors, but a Zealot and a Tax Collector joined him. Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Tax Collector would normally have been bitter political enemies, more so than democrats and republicans of today. But with Jesus they found someone who was greater than their personal politics. In Jesus they found another way to do politics, leaving behind their previous ideas and embracing his.
So, is Jesus a Democrat or a Republican? No, he is not. Jesus does not have to conform to any pre-determined political dogma. Jesus is himself a power greater than all others and he does politics his own way. How then do we label Jesus? Some may say that we cannot and should not, but I disagree. There is a label for Jesus, the perfect label: Jesus is Lord.
– Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Church, Camden, AR, May 2011
Printed May 2011; Camden News; Camden, AR.