The moment is clear in my mind:
I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone was family, and we even had neighbors we called “aunt” and “uncle.” This particular “uncle” was speaking with one of my parents recently, one of which used to work for the Reagan administration, and said this line: “How are you guys handling Jon, now that he is a liberal?” Now, I don’t hold this comment against the man, even knowing he probably said it with a grin on his face, but the question I had was, “how could he come up with this conclusion? Yes, given that I was raised a certain way, I was doomed to believe in limited government, tea-party style rhetoric and to not vote for the first black president of the United States of America. There was even a season in my young teenage life where I walked around town with a shirt that had the face of Hilary Clinton on it, with a non-smoking line across her face, which had this print underneath her face: “Say no to communism.” This shirt got laughs and hearty “amens” around town, and even for those who were for this type of political leadership, they thought it was funny and gave me nice conversation. Now, because I risk potentially offending every single person reading this particular blog post (whether you are in the liberal, conservative or talking-about-politics-is-uninteresting type of person), understand that while this comment didn’t bother me it did give me an opportunity to make some space for why this question would be asked. Here is what I found:
Whenever I was younger, I had never really had a real conversation with someone who held a different position (left wing) than my family. The only comments made towards these people were that they were idiots and actively contributed to the destruction of the Republic. It wasn’t long after I left my staff job at America’s largest church (this is not a joke), that I began to go back to University and even read the Gospels for a fresh perspective on the life and teachings of Jesus. I had always loved the life of Jesus, but had rarely taken His teachings that seriously. For many years, Jesus had become a religious pre-occupation, shelved during the week but brought out for special occasions like communion, offering-time and Wednesday night prayer meeting. But then something wonderful happened: I realized that Jesus could be taken seriously as a brilliant person, having something to say the whole of life, and this is exactly why the Pharisees were so upset with Jesus: He said things that had to do with the way the religious leaders interacted with the poor, the lonely, the immigrant and the government of the day. Jesus wasn’t concerned with how the Priests would pick the vestments or even what the Temple carpet was, as Yoder eloquently stated in his book, The Politics of Jesus: “Jesus’ proclamations of the Kingdom was unacceptable to most of his listeners not because they thought it could not happen but because they feared it might, and that it would bring judgment on them .” Jesus made comments that related to the ancient practice of Jubilee, which included four things: 1. The Fallow Year. 2. Remission of debts. 3. Liberation of slaves. 4. The redistribution of Capital.
The Fallow Year
In other words, when Jesus told his disciples to leave everything behind and follow Him, it was a direct reference to the first quality of jubilation: that God’s people would take a break from their toiling and just trust in God to take care of the provision for their animal and families. This may seem an oversimplification, but you can see how our materialistic society can barely understand the person who rests from work to give themselves over to the presence of God, and trust Him to supply their needs. It is a risky thing to leave something behind, but as John Howard Yoder says, Jesus is God’s jubilee inauguration to the world and He can change the rules. Lastly, the year has begun and the time to trust in God with everything, not just our eternal destinies, has begun.
Remission of Debts
In other words, when Jesus tells his disciples how to pray, He explains what the church through the ages has called the Lord’s prayer. In the prayer we ask God to forgive our debts as we forgive the debts owed to us, that way we can be sure that God will always forgive us. The word for debt is not just spiritual, it is the word directly associated with literal money. When I was younger, my dad (the one who worked for the Reagan administration) sat me and my brothers around the kitchen table and said this: “Sons, if you give someone money they need, make sure to never demand that they pay you back. It is not the way of Jesus to hold a debt over anyone, so you are to never hold a debt over anyone either.” I never forgot that piece of advice from my dad, because this way of Jesus doesn’t include lording heavy debts over people’s necks, and that this forgiveness is not just a mental ascent to letting something go, it is a sacrament that we in the body of Christ extend to the world, especially when it comes to money. Debt-forgiveness of third world nations must be a priority in how the church advises the heads of state in our countries. After all, we are commanded by Jesus to teach the nations.
Liberation of Slaves
In other words, there is not only a spiritual dimension to this liberation, where we are free in our own hearts and minds,but a very real sense of injustice that is happening al over the world and it seems that God is not okay with it, whether it be the slavery in the early american colonies, the slaves in Africa or the most widespread form of slavery the world has ever seen: sex slavery or as many of us know it, human trafficking. The leader of the abolition movement was non other than William Wilberforce. His influence as an MP in Parliament would not only shape how we in the west see human ownership, but also create a ripple effect that eventually saw the young American nation we live in also give up on the ownership of men and women, albeit a very bloody one. Wilberforce was a strong Christian. Now, we must admit that much of our freedoms are an illusion. Because we think freedom is the ability to choose rather something chosen, people are not only slaves to pimps and brothels fronted as massage parlors, but also slaves to money, war, ideology. The very systems we created to be institutions of life, have become institutions of death. In Jesus’ day, he saw the temple culture, which was originally created to bring life to the nations, but over many years and occupations had become an exclusive club that brought death to the nations. Jesus responded to this mindset by turning over the tables of the money changers, and declaring that His Father’s house was meant to be a house of prayer, for all nations. It would seem to me that Jesus was far more aware of the addictions and needs we put ourselves under, in order to feel like we are living with ultimate purpose in the world. Rather, Jesus comes along and says, “What I am doing is far better than that. Watch this!”
The Redistribution of Capital
In other words, Jesus meant it when he said his followers were to give what they had to those who were in need. It is not a cheeky 10% off the top, but a life lived in generosity that marks the maturation of the disciple. Now, I know what you might be thinking: “You see, right there Jon. You’ve gone liberal, even slightly communistic for believing in the redistribution of wealth from the upper to the lower class.” No, I am not a communist and I don’t believe Jesus to have ascribed his Father’s Kingdom to that of a Communistic type utopia. Once again, I turn to Yoder: “…it is not our belief that Jesus prescribed Christian communism. If he had done this he would have left to his disciples either monastic rules comparable to those of the Essenes, or some kind of constitution for a Jewish collective state. This he did not do. Collectivism was contrary to the spirit of Moses .” The motto of the Kingdom of God would be the following: Unity within diversity! We live in a wonderful tapestry of nations and persons, each with her or his own identity, and yet we do not allow these differences to split us apart. We remain faithful to loving one another, especially when we are different, rather than in-spite of our differences. Whenever we live in a capitalistic society, it is easy to accept the narrative that tells us to fight for what is ours, and not share it with others, but the way of Jesus compels us by a different way. From now on, we are to use our resources to store up a type of treasure in the heavenlies which brings honor to those who feel the shame of joblessness and hope to those who feel the futility of existence. I am not saying we should give 100% of our incomes away, but we should stop making qualifications for what Jesus really meant by His teachings.
In conclusion, it is easy for us to cast people into labels we have previously deemed unworthy of serious consideration or thoughtfulness. Jesus has been swept aside into a category by the academy, not to be taken seriously because He is for the religious and Socrates is for the intellectual who wants to change the world. This is primarily the churches fault, for telling the world that the whole of Jesus’ message has to do with a celestial place they go to when they die, which has nothing to do with how they live in the world. We must reclaim this Jesus, and help others see why He is the wisest and most brilliant man to ever live, one who has something to say the whole of life, which includes politics. I no longer where my politics on my sleeve, telling people what I am against, wearing t-shirts that display the face of my enemies or ascribe to a particular wing of the political spectrum. I refuse to take on a position I can identify with apart from Jesus Christ. With that said, I do think that as a Jesus-follower I am to speak truth to power and hold a fidelity to the truth above agenda. What I now propose is that we all give ourselves over to a fresh reading of the Gospels, if only to rediscover the scandal of grace in the Jesus from Nazareth, asking this question: “What would it look like for Jesus to be President?” This is where we begin, not end up. Let us live accordingly!
“Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”-Mark 1:14
For those of us who are misunderstood, here is my advice: take heart and trust in the Lord. We may not have all the answers, but we know our Rabbi Jesus will always be a good Shepherd, leading us into green pastures.
1) Yoder, p. 85
2) Yoder, p. 70