Thursday, December 19, 2013
Not a Political Revolutionary
John 6:15 ¶ When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Jesus had just fed the 5000 and they were overcome with gratitude for what he had done, but they also saw the potential for personal benefit. They wanted a political Messiah, one who would bring about solutions to their problems within the human structures of the day. The fact that he was able to feed the people was just one more confirmation that he could bring about the political change they believed that they wanted and needed. Often occupation or dominance by a foreign ruler had led to famine. Jesus’ ability to feed people with his own power would mean less reliance upon foreign authorities. Surely Jesus as their king would mean that their temporal personal needs would be met.
For Jesus to be a political revolutionary would have been to succumb to the temptation brought to him after he had fasted in the desert. Jesus, realizing his kingdom was not of this world would not give in, but instead quoted the scriptures to the Enemy and left, not wanting the power that the world had to give him.
Jesus did not come to be a political revolutionary, he came to usher in the kingdom of God. For this to happen he could not listen to the voices of those around him, but he had to withdraw and go to the mountain by himself. Mark tells us that Jesus went away to pray. He had to hear the gentle leading voice of his Father, a voice that would essentially drown out the praise and admonition of the crowds.
Jesus had come to bring peace on earth and this would never be accomplished through human politics. His peace could only come through the transformation of humanity, one person at a time.
Could it be that, like the folks in the Galilee, we have expectations of Jesus Christ? Too often, I’m afraid, we have thoughts about what Jesus ought to be accomplishing within this world, and those things may be of a physical or political nature. The problem with that is that we are simply not understanding the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God involves radical transformation in our own personal lives and Jesus is our example.
The baby who was born in Bethlehem came to usher in a new kingdom, but it would never be one that would accomplish change through political systems, but through communities of people who were continually being transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. In the early centuries of Christianity the followers of Christ had a profound impact because of their behavior. They were the ones who went and collected the unwanted babies who had been left to die at the edge of town. No, these Christians didn’t have the money to be raising extra children in their homes, but somehow this didn’t seem to stop them. They served the Jesus who had fed the 5000, not for political gain, but for kingdom service. They, too, were engaged in kingdom service and believed that Jesus could feed the extra mouths now in their homes.
The early Christians were willing to be martyrs as they were put to death for their faith. Their faithfulness to God became a witness to the surrounding communities. They would not give in to the political forces of their day but would rather die for a new and unseen kingdom. How did they have the strength to face death? They had followed the example of Christ and they had retreated to the mountain by themselves to pray. Those were people with a deep personal relationship with Christ and were being transformed into his image — reflecting him to the surrounding community. No, they did not wrestle to bring about political change, but instead a shining kingdom of Christ-reflectors in the midst of a corrupt politic.
Eventually Christianity did become co-opted by the political system of the day and Christianity celebrated this fact and bought into the human systems of power. By the fourth century Christianity became the approved religion of the government and then the Christians began persecuting those who would not join them. It became Christianity by coercion in many places. As the Church became increasingly enmeshed in the political structures of the day the Spirit seemed to be more and more constrained. Why spend time in prayer when you can spend time with the Emperor and get things accomplished! And so the Church leaders found themselves continually drawn to the centers of political power. Have you ever noticed the robes worn by the Patriarchs of the Eastern Orthodox Church, or by the Pope? Do you know where they got those outfits? They were replicas of those worn by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
But Jesus refused to give in. He went away and prayed. Human power and position are nothing in the kingdom of God. Do not be enticed to be a political revolutionary — but be enticed by the glory of the simple babe who came to bring peace on earth.
Lord, thank you for your kingdom. Please, keep us from temptation. Amen.