Jesus Is Political, Pt. 2 [Sermon #3]
God, Jesus, Race, Politics, and You - Sermon #03 - Jesus is Political, Part 2
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • Sept 25, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
We are continuing in our sermon series: “God, Jesus, Race, Politics, and You.” We are engaging in this series because we are kingdom people, we are image bearers of the One True God and we have a mandate to be the people of God in every facet of our lives, whether at church, in the marketplace, on the job, on the street, or at home.
Regardless of what politics might mean today and regardless of how it’s practiced today, politics’ most basic concern is about the ordering of relationships. It’s about the way we live together and how we get along. It’s about people. And relationship, love, and getting along are central to the practice of Christianity. We believe that God has something to say about how we live and the way we relate to one another.
Pay to God What’s God’s Pay to Caesar's What’s Caesar's
Last week, we considered the temptations that corrupt all politics: materialism, power, and self-interest. What Jesus shows us clearly with his responses to the Satan’s temptations is that neither material wealth nor coercive military power will bring the kingdom of God. Both are inefficient in the task of enthroning God in our lives, in our community, in the world. This is why Jesus instructs us over and over again to seek first the king, his kingdom, his righteousness (Matthew 6:33) because this helps us orient ourselves, our lives, our worldview.
And Jesus fully appreciates that it is your basic worldview, values, and faith that inform and directs your politics. If you grew up in the church like I did, you may have been instructed that Jesus was apolitical, or neutral, at best, when it comes to matter of governance and politics. It’s the based in the gnostic idea that Jesus was only concerned with souls and spirits, not the issues of flesh and blood. The idea that politics is human and God is divine. When we allow ourselves to believe that God is only concerned with spiritual matters, it renders Jesus unable to speak to us on how we should live in the present world. The scripture that was often cited to support this view was the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees when they ask him whether it’s lawful to pay taxes. Let’s take a look at this passage found in Matthew 22:15-22:
15Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” 18But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” 21“Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” 22When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15–22)
Those who came to trap Jesus pose him a simple question, hoping that his answer will trap him and weaken his influence either by getting him killed or having the people turn on him. The rhetorical trap is set by asking a question that seemingly can only be answered in one of two ways. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?
As we read Jesus’ response, as modern hearers, we may hear Jesus saying keep the religious separate from the political. Simple, but I don’t think that’s what he’s doing...
If Jesus answers yes, his fellow Jews who are heavily taxed under occupation by a brutal empire will see Jesus as a traitor, someone in league with Rome. If his answer is no, then, Jesus will lose the crowds that the religious authorities are really afraid of.
If Jesus answers no, then Rome will see in Jesus a insurrectionist, an upstart terrorist who may be gathering a following to overthrow Rome. Telling people not to pay taxes to Caesar was same as declaring war against Rome. If Jesus answers no, the state will see him as a threat and will publicly execute him.
So it appears that either way Jesus loses.
Jesus knows that this question is a trap, all three accounts of the interchange include this awareness. So, listen to his answer:
19Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” 21“Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:15–22)
His insight is not how we have been instructed to interpret and understand this passage, separate what is religious from what is political. That’s a false dichotomy.
Instead, Jesus’ response upends the original question when invites those who pose the question and us who read it to do something. He invites us to examine our hearts. Think about it this way. If you are a first-century Jew hearing Jesus’ teaching, what exactly belongs to God? What exactly are “the things that are God’s?” Everything. Everything belongs to God. Did you catch that? The first-century Jews had a theology centered on a God who created and sustains the world, the whole world. Everything belongs to God therefore, leaving nothing, nothing at all for Caesar.
Here’s the beauty of this response, if you’re the emperor and you hear Jesus’ response, you aren’t threatened at all because you have a different worldview. The world is yours. So there’s no need to worry about the demands of a little provincial God of a people held in captivity and bondage.
In this way, Jesus appears to pose no threat to Rome, but Jesus actually undercuts Rome’s audacious claims to power.
In his response, he reserves the original question and poses his own, “Who really rules the world? Whose world is this?”
Do you believe it? Do you really believe that the whole world belongs to God? Perhaps because we don’t actually take seriously the confession that the whole world belongs to God. Perhaps because we accept rather unthinkingly the claims to political power that governments in the ancient world and today claim. Perhaps because our theology is too easily co-opted by our political commitments.
Do we give all to Caesar, leaving little to give to God? We are wrestling with politics in this series because God has called us to be his image bearers in his good creation and we may need to reset our thinking as we follow Jesus as the people of God.
So What Is Jesus’ Political Agenda?
As we consider a reset of our thinking, I think considering Jesus’ kingdom agend found in Luke 4:18-21 is a good place to start, let’s read it:
18“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18–21)
Those words from Isaiah 61 and Jesus’ comment on them are the first recorded words of Jesus’ public ministry. The words Jesus read from Isaiah are not an exact quotation of Isaiah. As Jesus reads the text from Isaiah he changes it. Jesus has intentionally and purposefully chosen and arranged particular portions of Isaiah’s text to create a specific message. He’s adds healing (recovery of sight for the blind) and removes judgment (and the day of vengeance of our God).
1The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God. (Isaiah 61:1–2)
His message is a kingdom message that focuses on those who are outsiders. Jesus is outlining his politics. He is describing the character of his ministry. He is establishing his priorities and the direction of his work. He is casting his vision for the reordering of relationships – good news to the poor, release to the captive, sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free, declaring God’s favor.
It is interesting to me what Jesus left out of this list of reasons for the Spirit’s anointing. The things that are left out of Jesus’ statement are, sadly, often made the primary reasons for the anointing in some circles. But Jesus says nothing about being anointed so he can be happy or rich. He says nothing about being anointed so he can have peace, be wealthy, speak in tongues or prophesy. He says nothing about being anointed so he can have a really exciting experience with God. None of these are included by Jesus as his reasons for being anointed by the Spirit.
The things he left out are not bad. It’s good to be happy and rich, to speak in tongues and prophesy, and to have wonderful religious experiences. But they are not the primary reasons for the anointing of the Spirit. They are secondary. When secondary things are made primary in God’s Kingdom, good though they may be, they become profaned.
Jesus said that the reason for the anointing by the Spirit is missional. It’s as if Jesus is saying we are blessed to be a blessing. This means that a people who are full of the Spirit will announce good news to the poor, that we will proclaim freedom to the prisoners and seek the healing and recovery of sight to the blind. Spirit-filled people will release the oppressed and announce that the Kingdom of God has come, proclaiming the year of God’s favor. And do this work means we have to be political. Because it is those are the margins, those we are being left-behind, who need us the people of God, anointed by the Spirit to see the outsider and make space, to welcome them.
Let me push on the “proclaim the year of God’s favor” for a moment.
It’s like Jesus is saying, “I am anointed to minister to the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the bound, the oppressed, and ..... Oh I can’t list all of the things that are beginning to be fulfilled in my ministry as a result of the anointing, so let me put it like this: All the things included in the promises of the prophets that are to be fulfilled when God shows his favor are now in the process of being fulfilled. This is the time of God’s favor to the lost, the sick, the poor, the prisoners, and the disempowered. I am anointed to begin the process of their fulfillment.”
From here on out everything Jesus does will be grounded in a politics of good news, release, sight, freedom, and divine favor. His politics is revealed in healing the sick, casting out demons, forgiving sins, feeding the hungry, raising the dead. His politics stands at the center of and is the content of his crucifixion and resurrection.
I see nine immediate implications from Jesus’ kingdom agenda, I want to list them, but I don’t have time to space to unpack them.
Start, build, strengthen, and mature reconciling, missional, compassionate churches. (Genesis 12:1-3; Isaiah 41:8-10; Isaiah 43:4-7; Isaiah 49, esp. 5-6; Ezekiel 37; Matthew 10:1-41/ Mark 6:7-12/ Luke 9:1-6; Matthew 22:34-40; Matthew 25:31-46; Matthew 28:18-21; Luke 10:1-24; John 20:19-22; Acts)
Preach the gospel for the intent of the spiritual transformation of individuals by the power of the Word and the Spirit. (Isaiah 55:10-11; Jeremiah 31:31-33; Joel 2:28-32; Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 4:43; Acts; Romans 1:15-18; Romans 10:14-15; Romans 12:1-3; Romans 15:17-20; I Corinthians 1:17 - 2:5; II Corinthians 4:5-6; II Timothy 4:1-5)
Heal the physically, emotionally, and spiritually sick. (Isaiah 30:26; Isaiah 33:24; Isaiah 35:3-6; Isaiah 57:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-3; Jeremiah 33:6; Matthew 4:23-24; Matthew 10:8; Matthew 11:5; Luke 4:19; John 20:21)
Work to bring healing to families and other social units that will result in peace and freedom for their members. (Psalm 68:5-6; Isaiah 2:2-5; Malachi 4:6; Matthew 19:13-15/ Mark 10:13-16/ Luke 18:15-17; Luke 11:17; Ephesians 5:22 – 6:9; Colossians 3:18 – 4:1; Philemon 1-25)
Speak prophetically in word and deed to the social and political systems that imprison, abuse and destroy human life. (Exodus 1-14; Isaiah 1:1-31; Isaiah 55:7-23; Isaiah 65, 66; Daniel, e.g. 5; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:8; Luke 10:25-37; Ephesians 6:10-12)
Feed the hungry and clothe the poor. (Isaiah 58; Amos 2:6-16; Matthew 25:31-46; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 12:22-34; James 2:1-7)
Work for the release of slaves whether they are sex slaves, underpaid workers, employees in sweat shops, children enslaved in abusive labor conditions, children serving in the military, or any other kinds of slavery that destroys human dignity. (Leviticus 25; Nehemiah 5; Isaiah 1:1-31; Matthew 22:34-40; Luke 7:22; Luke 10:25-37; James 5:1-6)
Work for reconciliation between races, cultures, economic groups, churches, and religions. (Isaiah 2:2-5; Isaiah 19:18-25; Matthew 5:23-26, 43-48/ Luke 6:27-36; John 17:1-26; Ephesians 1:9-10; Ephesians 2:11-22; Galatians 3:26-29; James 2:1-11)
Tend the earth so that it can sustain human life and be enjoyed by all according to God’s intention for his creation. (Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 2:15; Isaiah 65, 66; Matthew 6:9-13/ Luke 11:2-4; Romans 8:18-27; Revelation 21:1-5)
Jesus is not apolitical. Far from it. Jesus is intensely political! But Jesus has his own politics — and they cannot be made to serve the interests of some other political agenda.
At the heart of Jesus’ politics found in Luke 4 is an unspoken and yet ever present question: Where does it hurt? That’s the question that drives and directs Jesus’ life and ministry. As Jesus will later say,
30But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:30–32)
Basically, where does it hurt?
Jesus’ political agenda is not determined or influenced by who is good or bad. It doesn’t seem to matter to Jesus who you are, what you have done or left undone, or what your life is like.
What if we adopted Jesus’ political platform as our own? What if we began our political thinking and conversations by asking, “Where does it hurt?” What if we entered those difficult and divisive situations with that question? What if we let that question establish our priorities and guide our decisions?
Presence with and compassion for another human being would replace resolving issues, fixing problems, and just winning votes. We would listen more than we speak. Power would look like cooperation and collaboration. We would have to have the courage and will to stand with another in his or her pain, and the vulnerability to risk letting another stand with us in our pain. We would open rather than close places, people, and ourselves to the divine favor. We would know the fulfillment of “this scripture” here, today, right now.
Consider what it means to be present to someone or an issue that's bugging us this week. Create some space to ask and listen to the answer to the question, "Where does it hurt?" As you listen to the answer, consider praying for God to bring his kingdom in the midst of the situation and see what happens.