I am fascinated by political parties. History is not my forte, but thinking through how these systems evolved, seeing how different generations affiliate with certain groups, I love thinking about how we think and the why behind how we align ourselves.
One Sunday morning, I had a woman approach me. Apparently, something I had said in my teaching had a political overtone. She said something along the lines of, “I know we don’t agree politically, but I liked that point you made.” Due to this person’s overt expression of her favorite candidates, I was fairly certain I could guess whom she assumed I would be voting for. The irony was, her assumption was incorrect. (Unless my assumption about her assumption was wrong, but I’m assuming not.)
Jesus was surrounded by many “parties.”
There was the Roman Government, connected to the Herodians, that sometimes was in cahoots with the Pharisees, who were connected to the Sadducees, who both ran the Sanhedrin that involved the scribes and the lawyers but most likely had exchanges with the Galiliens, all trying to keep the zealots in check, and I could keep going. Lots of groups. Lots of lobbying. Lots of dynamics.
Modern scholars of the historical Jesus attempt to draw direct parallels between Jesus’s political encounters with contemporary dynamics; but they almost all reflect one of my favorite aspects of Jesus – from how I interpret his interactions, He rarely behaves like any one group expects. He’s not militant enough for the zealots, he’s not legal enough for the Jewish courts, he’s too Jewish for the Roman officials, and he has zero ability to pull clout through a royal or economic advantage. Yet he teaches in the temple, he eats with tax collectors and Pharisees, he converses with Roman authorities, He moves among the middle class.
Pastor Albert Tate, in referencing how Jesus engages systems of his day, remarks about Jesus’ interaction in the temple. A scene recorded across three of the four gospels, John gives the most descriptive retelling:
“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2)
Pastor Tate’s comment was a challenge for leaders to note that “Jesus overturned tables. He did not overturn people.”
Jesus had a habit of exposing the system, of speaking to and addressing the reality of, the structures that were driving a mission counter to the heartbeat of God. But He also had this habit of seeing the humanity beyond the behavior, to see brothers and sisters beyond choices and allegiances.
I would add to Albert Tate’s lesson by reminding us of the reality that while Jesus did address systems and structures, there doesn’t seem to be an expectation to quickly overturn or change those systems. In fact, from my understanding, this is part of why leaders of Jesus’ day struggled with His methods. Where was the change?!
The beginning of that change would emerge many years later, and we continue to slowly unfold all that Jesus hoped for our humanity. We’ve come so far. But there is more clarity and wisdom to gain. There is more surrender and love to be done.
When describing the two forefront political parties, I have expressed a personal feeling. Remember the sentiment “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime?” In my opinion (just speaking for myself), we have one “side” that is eager to feed. They are ready to share fish, give fish away, often from great intentions. Everyone should be able to eat. The problem is, that’s not really a long term solution. It can leave the people that do the fishing unaccounted for; and has the potential to keep a person dependent upon them to sustain their fishy diet, giving an illusion of freedom and stability.
Another loves the idea of feeding for a lifetime. And that makes sense. They look at others and effectually say, “Go fish. There is plenty of fish. Just grab your pole, your bait, your hook and you’ll be fishing forever, just like my friend …” with an inspiring story of a random person in middle America that learned to fish by their bootstraps. To me, the problem with this sentiment is that not everyone is born with access to a pole, bait, or is in proximity to someone that can adequately teach them to fish. While I would never argue with the fact that we live in a country with amazing opportunity, I would tilt my head at the notion that all that opportunity is indeed equal.
On my “Favorite Things About Jesus” list is His individual approach. He’s like, “Hey, you have a fishing pole, that’s awesome. Use it well. Maybe teach this other guy to fish.” Walking upstream a little he mentions, “Hey, I know you haven’t been taught how to fish. That does make it more difficult, but it doesn’t make it impossible, let’s look at what you need in this moment to move forward to the next.”
I realize to give our nation individual attention, verification, accountability, etc. would require an insane amount of resources. I’m not actually advocating for the “give a fish” or “teach to fish,” those are you personal decisions that I hope you are making in dialogue with God’s spirit in your life. What I am advocating for is the idea of seeing beyond the party lines we draw; seeking to see individual children of God at the forefront. While church leaders have challenged us to see beyond color and gender, many are calling to add our voting choice to that mix.
We won’t solve everything in one or one hundred terms. Jesus turned a few tables and things kept right on as they had before, but the way He invested and loved twelve individuals eventually transformed the world. There might be something in there for us.