(This is a follow-up to my original post on politics.)
No, he was not.
Before you revolt, let me explain…
Let’s start with the definition of politics: activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties hoping to achieve power. If we begin with this foundation, then no, Jesus was not political.
Jesus never aligned himself with a political party.
Jesus never aligned himself with a political leader or political agenda.
Jesus never lobbied or campaigned for a political candidate or cause.
Therefore, Jesus never participated in politics.
And at the same time, yes, Jesus was political. Again, let’s look at the narrative…
Jesus was born a refugee – seeking asylum in a foreign country to escape political persecution.
Jesus was executed by the state (in collusion with the religious leaders) in a political execution.
And, most importantly (with all diction at his disposal), Jesus used the language of kingdom.
The documentarian, Mark, reveals some of Jesus’ perspective on politics in his account of Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees and Herodians. (Sidenote: the Herodians were a group with very convoluted beliefs that mixed religion and politics in an unhealthy manner. Google it.)
These two groups – the Pharisees and Herodians – who were enemies, expect when it came to trying to trap their common enemy, asked Jesus if it was right for Jews to pay taxes to Caesar. In other words, “Jesus, what are your views on the separation of religion and state?”
And how does Jesus respond?
But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Rather than dismissing them because of their hypocrisy, Jesus uses the opportunity to engage them and those who were observing the scene. Then Jesus, being the master teacher, employs a prop and asks a thought provoking question before giving any instruction; which is:
Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
And they were amazed at him.
And the question I remember a professor in seminary asking as a followup to this teaching…
Now, whose image is on you?
If Caesar’s image is on the coin and we should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and we should give to God what is God’s…hmmmm.
Here’s what I take away from Jesus’ political message:
All political matters are matters of the heart and you cannot legislate matters of the heart.
So for those of us who are in to following Jesus and maybe for the sake of those who are not, there’s another question:
Will we politicize these matters or practice these matters?
As a quick example…
Will we get caught up in the passionate conversation around issues like communism (i.e. universal healthcare, etc.) or will we choose to live generously so that our resources are used to provide for those whom life in this world has not?
It may sound idealistic and many, if not all, of you may want to push-back (which I very much welcome in the comments below), but at the end of the day…I still think this is an extremely helpful question:
Will we politicize matters of the heart and align our identity with current politics or will we, perhaps even quietly, practice the matters of the heart that inform our politics?
Our answer to this question, and the implications it carries, will demonstrate to this world the true source of our hope and faith.
So was Jesus political? Yes…