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3: The Politics of Jesus

September 2, 2008

I was actually a graduate student of the Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder the second time I read his class book, The Politics of Jesus. I was sitting in the Hesburgh library at the University of Notre Dame, half-way through the book, sitting in that building which sports Touch-Down Jesus on the southern side of its 13-story façade. I set the book down, and uttered aloud, “Good Lord, is this really what the Gospel is about?”

Yoder argued this: the Kingdom of God is a real kingdom, in the social and political sense of “Kingdom.” Even the word euaggelion, “gospel,” was a thoroughly political word, which meant good news for a community as a consequence of some victory or diplomatic agreement. The disciples, Yoder argued, were not wrong in expecting a Kingdom. They were wrong in their expectations of the means and methods of the Kingdom.

“Politics,” in the classical sense, does not mean grasping for votes or scheming for power. Instead “politics” is simply the art and science of arranging the affairs of a community. Understood in this way, there can be no possible separation between Jesus and politics, because Jesus spoke insistently and regularly about such things—security, wealth, enemies, violence, reconciliation, offenses, care for the sick, the poor, and the stranger. Thus the real question is not whether Jesus was political. The more challenging question is whether we dare embrace the sort of politics that Jesus advocated.

There exists a great deal of Christian tradition that tells us we need not that Jesus seriously on all these things. Many have said that we are not really intended to love our enemies in the so-called secular world; love of enemies is, instead, a spiritual or a private matter, but cannot possibly be a public, political, or social matter.

And yet Jesus never made such a distinction. Instead, he called his followers to be a different sort of Kingdom—one that loves its enemies rather than kill them; one that practices free and generous sharing and distribution of wealth, rather than hoarding and accumulating; one that forgives 70 x 7, instead of merely once, or three-times-and-you’re-out.

This is a politic, of course, neither Republican nor Democrat; neither American nor Iraqi; this is politic that called both Roman imperialism and nationalist zealotry to repentance; this is a politic that would call both contemporary super-powers and terrorist fanatics to repentance, too.

So tonight we look for Tokens of this sort of politics, this sort of hope, this sort of longing for the Kingdom of God.