“Why are you making Jesus political?”
“The social gospel proponents don’t care about individual salvation, and that’s what Jesus was all about.”
Interacting online is something that I do as a public theologian and I often see questions and statements like those above while perusing the internet. A major, if not THE major, theme of conservative American Christianity is a deep belief in the vital importance of personal salvation – getting saved, and an utter disregard for “the least of these” as Jesus called those whose lives were lived with terrible precariousness on the margins of society in the harsh environs of the Ancient Near East. Often people ask that question of me or make a similar statement about personal salvation’s importance. To them I say, Mary started it. Mary alerts us to the fact that Jesus’ life and ministry will completely upset the political and social order. In the Magnificat – Luke 1:47-55 (1) Mary proclaims that the one born from her womb will: “scatter the proud,” bring the powerful “down from their thrones,” “fill the hungry with good things,” and send “the rich away empty.”
These are all completely earthly concerns that would profoundly affect the daily lives of the people on the margins and those who had hitherto had things comparatively easy if not luxurious. Luke’s Gospel expounds on these ideas throughout. One can truly get that sense in Luke’s narrative by reading it from start to finish in one sitting. This enables the reader to see the patterns and themes that emerge from the text in a way that proof-texting, or even carefully choosing a pericope to do exegesis on can do.
Jesus in his ministry and teachings focused a great deal on earthly concerns. He was definitely political as the Sermon on the Mount and the aforementioned Magnificat attest, among many other passages in the Gospels where Jesus heals people, feeds people, fellowships with people by sharing wine and food with people from all over the socially stratified map, while articulating a vision of the kindom of God that is egalitarian and peaceful according to the late Biblical scholar and theologian Walter Wink. That is why Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as well as our enemies. That’s why we are called to follow the Golden Rule which Jesus said summed up the law and the prophets (Mt. 7:12)
As you reflect on the Incarnate Savior during this season, remember that he calls us to bring the kindom of God into being by practicing unconditional love to all people, here and now. That in the kindom of God no one goes hungry, no one is discriminated against for any reason, no one is beneath anyone else, there is no hate, bigotry, warfare, greed, nationalism, manipulation, predatory behavior, or any other violation of anyone’s personhood. Pray that my actions, and your actions in the here and now, cease to support any form of hate, bigotry, warfare, greed, manipulation, predatory behavior, or any other violations of anyone’s personhood that would cause them mental, emotional, or physical harm. I sum this way of living up in the title of my book – Go Golden. By living out the Golden Rule as Jesus taught here on Earth without regard to any notion of the afterlife is what I mean by going golden. May we all seek to usher in the kindom of God here and now.
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