This Sunday, the lectionary has Jesus telling his disciples the following:
So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’
Most people in the pews will hear this and not think much about it. It sounds like the Jesus we are used to – service to others, putting yourself second to others, etc.
But read it again.
Specifically verse 42 where Jesus says – “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.”
This is what we call a political statement – a very political statement.
Yes, Jesus got political. And it cost him his life for doing so. In this statement Jesus was saying that the norm in human governing is a person who is ruthless over their subjects. He is not being respectful of government – he is ripping those in charge a new one for being abusive.
But his disciples don’t yell: “You’re being too political Jesus! Stick to religion.” As if the religious and the political realms don’t ever cross over. Politics tramples over the lines of religion all the time and complains when religion steps over the line, especially when religion raises the cry of injustice for the poor, the oppressed, the outcast, the foreigner – the people who Jesus said God favors.
Political and partisan are not the same thing. Partisan is choosing sides in the power struggle that goes on. Political is the decision-making system established by a society. It can have parties or not. Jesus was political, but not partisan. We are called to the same thing. Following Jesus isn’t just a personal thing. It is public, and therefore political, in nature. Following Jesus has an impact on policies. Following Jesus impacts how we talk with and work with those that are opponents. Following Jesus impacts policies affecting the poor, the outcast, the oppressed, the foreigner.