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The Politics of Jesus

Many are so conditioned by the mindset of the world that they can’t even envision an alternative way of affecting society and politics other than by playing the political game as it is done by the established governmental system. Some thus conclude that, since Jesus didn’t try to overhaul the political systems of his day by using the common tactics of those systems, the Christian faith must be primarily about personal piety and thus has no social relevance.

In his book The Politics of Jesus, John Howard Yoder has demonstrated that everything about Jesus’ ministry was socially and politically relevant. Precisely because he did not allow the politics of his day to define his ministry, he positioned himself to make a revolutionary prophetic comment, and ultimately have revolutionary impact on the society and politics of his day.

Jesus didn’t buy into the limited options the culture placed before him. He rather exposed ugly injustices in all kingdom-of-the-world options by offering a radically distinct alternative. It is a kingdom that resists the demonic pull toward coercive, “power-over” violence that characterizes all versions of the kingdom of the world. (See post on the connection between violence and governments.) It is a kingdom that, through self-sacrifice, unmasks the ugly injustice and violence of all versions of the kingdom of the world and the demonic powers that fuel them. It is a kingdom that doesn’t wage war “against flesh and blood” but instead fights against “rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness” (Eph 6:12) that hold all people in bondage.

It is a beautiful kingdom that is not so much spoken as it is displayed in loving action. For example, Jesus never entered into the fray of particular debates about the status of women in society. He rather exposed the ugliness of patriarchalism by the countercultural way he treated women. Ignoring negative consequences for this reputation—and ultimately for his life—Jesus befriended them and gave them a culturally unprecedented dignity. In a society in which women were generally understood to be the property of men and in which women had few rights, Jesus’ actions were revolutionary.

The same may be said of Jesus’ treatment of social outcasts, including lepers, the blind, the demonized, the poor, prostitutes, and tax collectors. Instead of trying to legislate justice for them, he provided an alternative to the sociopolitical structures of the world and exposed the injustices of these structures in the process.

Most fundamentally, Jesus exposed the barbarism of the Roman government, and ultimately the barbarism of all kingdoms of the world, by allowing himself to be crucified by them. Instead of using the power available to him to preserve his life, he exercised the power of love by giving his life for the very people who were taking it. Jesus’ death established that the kingdom community would not be characterized by “power over” but by “power under.” It would be a community where people have the same attitude of Jesus and place other people’s interests above their own (Phil 2:4-5).

In this way, Jesus offered a different kind of politics. He provided a beautiful alternative to the “power over” structure of the world and exposed the self-centered ugliness of these structures in the process.

This is the politics that the community of God is called to emulate, characterized by Calvary-like love. As such, this community strives for justice not by conquering but by being willing to suffer. How socially and politically revolutionary it would be if we put our trust in Jesus’ politics instead of the politics of this world!

Photo credit: Funky64 (www.lucarossato.com) via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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