The Politics of Love

The Politics of Love:

There seems to be a big debate in today’s world as to whether religion and politics should mix.

We have seen over the last decade many worrying images of fundamental faith exerting a powerful influence upon weak governments, and this is not only confined to politics in the Middle East, and the Arab nations. People express their concerns over the religious right-wing in America, and its influence over the president; people throw up their hands in despair when our own prime minister brings God into the equation, whom he says will judge him over his decision to go to war with Iraq. In South America there is much talk of the politics of Liberation Theology, with governments reacting with force against dissenting voices.

Can we come to some kind of agreement on this question by studying the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, on this Good Friday. What indeed were his politics, if any and should they be ours too?

What we have to bear in mind is the fragile structure of the Jewish world in which Jesus ministered.

The Romans were the dominant force, members of the opposition, the oppressive foe. The Jews of Palestine lived in occupied territory.

To keep order, the Romans had set in place puppets kings and also a Roman governor who ruled supreme in the area, and whose business it was to keep order. He was a man called Pontius Pilate. It was his job to put down rebellions, crucify criminals and make sure the whole system ran smoothly. Josephus tells us that even though the Romans allowed the people to practice their religion, they upheld the law with great cruelty and brutality.

Pilate, in order to maintain his authority over the people, enrolled members of the priestly aristocracy to be in charge of the people, who colluded with them but who were also answerable to them. Caiphas, the high priest was such a man.

By collaborating with the Romans, these Jewish leaders felt they were able to preserve the faith, the Jewish culture and identity, along with its calendar and its festivals, and its laws and of course its economic structure.

Then along came Jesus, who all of a sudden seemed defiant, and a law unto himself, calling the religious leaders to account. So they were anxious to test him, to catch him out and expose him as an impostor, by posing difficult questions. After all did this man not come from an insignificant place called Nazareth?

If they had checked they would have found it was indeed Bethlehem, the City of David, where he was born, the place the Messiah was to be born, according to the prophets.

But he was winning acclaim, and being hailed as the Lamb of God, the Son of Man and the Messiah.

So what was wrong with that? The Jews after all were waiting for the Messiah who would one day free them from oppression and bring in a new world order.

But and it was a big but… Jesus seemed to be turning the whole world upside down with his teaching.

Everyone seemed to be clamouring for him, even John the Baptist’s disciples were going after him.

He spoke with authority and great wisdom, but he often made the Jewish leaders seem foolish and ignorant in front of their people, when they posed their questions to him. He called himself the Good Shepherd, reminiscent of the great shepherd, King David. He spoke in riddles, he made great claims about himself.

I am the Light of the world! He who follows me will never walk in darkness!

I am the Resurrection and the Life, he who believes in me will never die!

I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no-one comes to the Father, except through me! And so on.

He performed great deeds, wonderful healings and miracles, which made the Jewish leaders believe he must have been in league with Satan, as he was not adhering to their law, given by God, to respect the Sabbath.

Then it was said that Jesus multiplied loaves and fishes at the time of a Passover, which reminded the people of the great acts of God in the Exodus by way of the provision of food for the hungry in great measure.

He defied the leaders even further in his cleansing of the Temple economic system, which he believed was corrupt and unholy and demeaning of the poor.

Then just before Passover, Jesus rode into Jerusalem, on a donkey, and he was hailed by the people as King and Messiah, causing the worried Pharisees to deduce that the whole world seemed to be following him.

The Pharisees and the chief priests made attempts together to arrest him and they fail. As the leaders vent their frustration to Caiaphas, that they could be wiped out by the Romans if Jesus is left to his own devices, and the crowds get carried away by his teaching, he says to them, in words which ring out like some prophecy…

‘You have no grasp of the situation, at all, you do not realise that it is more to your interest that one man should die

for the people, than the whole nation should be destroyed!’

So they enlist the help of an insider to inform them as to the time and place of a quieter arrest away from the people, and from that time on they plot his death.

Their politics were those of damage limitation and containment.

But along with Roman politics, they are also those of domination and sub-ordination, backed up by use of force.

Those who arrest Jesus are a mixture of soldiers and officials from the chief priests and Pharisees.

However Jesus politics are quite different. His are the politics of LOVE.

All through John’s gospel we are given examples, of his teaching about love, about God’s love relationship with us, of loving even one’s enemies, his washing of his disciples feet, the giving up of his life, his entreaties to non-violence. E.g. telling Peter to put away his sword in the garden of Gethsemane…

His word do Simon Peter after the resurrection, Simon, Son f John, do you love me?’

His is a radical kind of politics! Normal rules are not part of Jesus manifesto.

He challenges apartheid and segregation! In meeting with the Samaritan woman, and with prostitutes, tax-collectors, and leper.

He challenges exclusiveness. Worship in spirit and truth or in the private of one’s own room, is possible outside of the established order of ceremony.

He is a non-conformist and he liberates the sick and the oppressed on the Sabbath day, so that the day for strictly adhering to the law… becomes a day of renewed creation .

He brings about health reform and liberates those with mental illnesses.

He takes on the evil works of the devil and exerts authority over them.

He speaks out on behalf of the suffering and the oppressed.

He humbly leads the disciples with servitude rather than dominance, and chooses to ride a donkey over a war horse.

He stands up for truth, even in the face of fierce resistance.

He practises non-violence.

Where in the world today is there such a political leader, so unaffected by fame, fortune and power? And yet we HAVE known leaders in recent history, who in trying to emulate his kind of policies have paid for it with their lives too.

Pilate, thinks he is in control of Jesus, but if we look carefully at the trial of Jesus we see who is really in charge.

Once Pilate hears the crowd say,’…according to the law he must die, because he claimed to be him the Son of God, his humiliation of Jesus and his way of questioning Jesus changes tack.

(John 19.8) When Pilate heard this he was more afraid, and he went back inside the palace.

“Where do you come from?” he asked, but Jesus gave him no answer.

“Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate asked. “Don’t you realise I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given you from above!”

Pilate from that moment tries to set Jesus free.

Barabbas, a name which literally means the son of the father, is set free, and the One who was the True Son of the Heavenly Father is sent on his way to be crucified.

After all it was put to Pilate by the chief priests and Pharisees, that if he let this man go, he was no friend of Caesar’s!”

And they too echoed “We have no king, but Caesar!”

Thus, on the most holy feast of the Passover when Jews celebrated a victory over the enemy who was Pharaoh, here they were siding with the opposition, namely Rome, in getting rid of God’s anointed One.

Will all who walk the way of the politics of love, face an easy path. By no means!

Desmond Tutu once said, ’I am puzzled over which bible people are reading when they suggest religion and politics don’t mix!”

Our Christian faith is not just about personal salvation nor individual transformation and renewal. It’s about embracing a new and different kind of politics, the politics of a Divine love, will we embrace such a manifesto in our lives, and turn our world upside down?

For true love shows itself not just in words, but in action.

Hymn to follow: Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus