Clearly a comparison between the political groups of Jesus’ day and ours is not perfect. I’m not trying to say Jesus was on the side of any group, or that any current political party is the party he would have been a part of. Quite the contrary, Jesus’ message ran counter to all the political groups he found himself surrounded by. Every one of them had their priorities wrong, and he made a lot of enemies by calling them out.
It is amazing how political the message of Jesus was. There was an element of eternal salvation to be sure, but this wasn’t picked up on until after the death and resurrection. The people who heard Jesus speaking, including his disciples, thought his message was primarily directed to the politics of his day. What was at the heart of this message? Justice, peace, and love.
Make no mistake about it, Jesus was crucified because he had gotten in too deep in the high stakes politics of his day. He made powerful enemies within the Sadducee and Pharisee parties because he was a serious challenge to the authority structure they had worked so hard to achieve. On the other hand, the Zealots thought he was going to lead the revolution, and, in a moment of eagerness, Judas (who belonged to this party) decides to give Jesus a little push to get the ball rolling. In betraying him to his political enemies, Judas thought Jesus would be forced to call the Zealots together, with the power of heaven, to bring Jerusalem into a golden age of power and military might. That’s not exactly how it turned out, but in the end he challenged the political assumptions of those around him, and prepared the way for living in a new reality that sought the purposes and values of heaven here on earth.
So why is it that the church’s focus today is primarily directed toward spiritual matters and seemingly unconcerned with politics and justice? Why do Christians seem to have dichotomized political and religious ideologies? How is it that one can speak of loving thy neighbor one moment and rounding up illegal aliens the next? How can one give a message about generosity and not include giving to the poor? We’ve allowed ourselves to separate the difficulties of Jesus’ message from the difficult realities we’re surrounded by; and in many instances, we’ve allowed our political leanings to trump the religious response his message calls us to. I think it’s time to think differently.