A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Deconstructing Memes: Jesus for President?

In the midst of another election year when the political debates intensify among Christians, at some point, perhaps in order to transcend the discussion or ratchet down the heat of argument, someone posts on social media something like the photo above: "Jesus for President," or "Jesus 2020." In one sense, it is understandable why someone would want Jesus for President. We get cynical about politics because of the politicians we have. (We must not forget, we only have those politicians because "We the People" voted for them.) We wish we had better choices feeling like all too often when it comes to voting, the only serious choice before us is the lesser of two evils. Jesus becomes the perfect--literally perfect-- alternative to the muck and mire of realpolitik.

It is certainly true that Jesus is the alternative to nation state politics, but to think it would be great to have Jesus as President of the United States misunderstands the character of the reign of King Jesus and his Kingdom. Even more, it is a complete rejection of the kind of Kingdom Jesus brings that is reflected in the mission of the church. Just like the first disciples before Jesus' crucifixion, we continue not to get it when it comes to the way of King Jesus and the way it should be with his Kingdom people. Please consider the following:

First, Jesus came to offer his Kingdom to all people, not a select few. To want to make Jesus President is insist that he favor one people, one nation over the others. That is precisely what Jesus rejected. 
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.  A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, 'Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?' He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, 'Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 'There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?' Jesus said, 'Make the people sit down.' Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, 'Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.' So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, 'This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.'
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 (John 6:1-15)
The feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle story, aside from the resurrection of Jesus, that is recorded in all four Gospels (cf. Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:12-17). In John's version, two details stand out for our purposes-- the writer tells us that the Passover was near, and after the miracle the people were planning on a coerced coronation to make Jesus King-- Messiah. His reaction was to withdraw himself from the situation.

We must keep in mind that for first-century Jews, Passover had become Israel's "Fourth of July." It was their story of freedom from slavery in Egypt. By Jesus' day, the Exodus had become Israel's centrally formative story. So, Jesus performs this miracle that no doubt reminded the crowd of the manna in the wilderness at the time of the year when Jewish nationalism was running high. While the Passover celebration was a time of joy, under Roman domination it was also a time of frustration knowing they were not free even in their homeland. Revolutionary sentiment ran high at this time of the year, and with this miracle the people were ready to crown Jesus as their Messiah in the hope that he would lead an army to toss the Romans out of their land. Yet, Jesus rejects the offer. He doesn't just politely turn it down; he flees from it to the mountain to be in God's presence, to be reminded again that the method of his Kingdom rule could not include violence-- the method by which earthly kingdoms rule.

Jesus will not choose the side of one nation against another. He has come to offer his Kingdom invitation to everyone. Jesus' Kingdom stands above all earthly nations. The reason Jesus cannot be the President of the United States or the Prime Minister of the U.K. is that it would force him into preferential treatment for one nation over the others. No amount of history twisting can align Jesus with the slogan "America First." No earthly nation state can so co-opt Jesus, even though many Christians keep trying to do so.

Second, Jesus also can never be President of the U.S. or the Chancellor of Germany because he refuses to accept the methods of such earthly rule.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ (Mark 10:35-45)
James and John approach Jesus as office seekers wanting to take advantage of a spoils system. When Jesus takes his place as King, one asks to be Secretary of the Treasury, the other wants to be the Secretary of State. They are thinking in terms of how an earthly kingdom operates. Those at the top have the most power and influence. Might makes rights. We must not forget that it was these two brothers who wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan town for rejecting Jesus (Luke 9:51-56).

Jesus uses the incident to instruct all the disciples in the nature of his kingdom which includes how it operates. The greatest in Christ's kingdom are the servants. The least are those who attempt to Lord it over everyone else. Jesus' kingdom is topsy-turvy from the kingdoms of the world. Indeed, Jesus' salvific power will be revealed not through the sword, but through the shame and submission of the cross.

If that's how Jesus operates, does anyone seriously want him to be President? Does anyone want a President who tells his followers to put away their swords because those who live by such weapons will die by the same (Matthew 26:52)? Does anyone want a President Jesus who welcomes all who come to him including "those foreigners" (Matthew 8:5-13; Matthew 15:21-28; John 4:1-26)? Do Americans want a President who values no nation above another (Matthew 28:18-20)?

Third, Jesus will not become President because he already rejected the offer two thousand years ago.
Again, the devil took him [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him (Matthew 4:8-11).
Should it be any wonder that Jesus, rejecting the values and the methods of earthly kingdoms would reject an offer to rule the world in a way that sadly, many of his followers today simply cannot refuse. After all, what's a little devil worship in exchange for a little more social justice or overturning Roe vs. Wade? The truth of the matter is that Jesus offers a different way of being in the world, a different way of achieving justice and peace; and after two-thousand years, his people continue not to get it. We continue to be James and John wanting to be in the halls of power and influence. We continue to be Peter who will pick up the sword, even though Jesus insisted that is not an instrument of the kingdom. We continue to believe that true change comes through the White House and not the Houses of God-- each local church that meets weekly. And what makes all of this even more problematic is that we continue to enlist God in our earthly kingdom agendas that he rejected two thousand years ago by calling certain leaders as God's Anointed while questionable TV preachers claim delusional visions about how God is favoring one nation over the others, something the New Testament explicitly rejects.

Jesus is not running for President nor would he accept the invitation if offered. Indeed, Jesus is Lord of all the Nations, and their agendas are long out of date.

Jesus' people need to stop baptizing the secular and paganizing the Christian. Jesus is Lord. He has no need of the pittance we call the presidency.

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