The political rivalries in America are as divisive and bitter as ever. Our conclusions on political issues are so different it seems as if those who support opposing ideas are from another planet. Yet, Christ-loving children of God are scattered all throughout the political spectrum.
Where and how can bitter political rivals come together in unified solidarity on behalf of God’s mission? Are our differences so deep-seated that it’s better to keep our distance? If we can work together, how can we move beyond mere cordiality and experience kinship and commonality of purpose as “brothers and sisters”? Can we transcend our principled, entrenched, and heartfelt political divisions?
We talk about compromise and bi-partisanship but how do we compromise on gay marriage, Roe v. Wade, decisions to go to war, or the size and scope of government? There is not much room for compromise. Politically speaking, one side has to amass enough strength to overpower the opposition in order to gain the authority to proceed with their agenda. Sides are drawn, one side wins and the other loses. In America, we conduct these struggles by means of elections, debates, and legislation (or, at least we used to) rather than coups or rebellions but, either way, we are still operating according to the patterns of the world.
We may have aligned ourselves with what we consider to be the best version of the kingdoms of the world but we need to remember it is still a kingdom of the world operating according to its own agenda by its own means. This is to be expected. We have a problem, however, when Christians align themselves more closely with the American kingdom than with Christ’s kingdom.
Christians have allowed our thinking to be co-opted by the prevailing paradigms of the kingdom of the world in which we live. We say our hope is in Christ yet we demonstrate by our words and actions that our hope lies in the power of the world, particularly in government legislation, court decisions, and social programs. Therefore, we place great importance upon who has the most power and influence within government. We need “our people” to have the majorities so they will legislate according to our principles and prevent the “other side’s” mistaken views from being enforced.
Jesus lived in a time and placed marked by deep political, religious, and cultural divisions. The Jews were continually wrestling among themselves for societal dominance and were divided among the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and Zealots. They found common ground in the Torah but had sharp differences otherwise. All of them, of course, lived under the domination of the Romans. The Jews despised the paganism of the Romans and resented their authority and control.
The men Jesus called to follow him were no monolithic group. Matthew was a tax-collector who compromised with the Roman authorities to the point of working for them. Jews like him not only collected taxes for the Roman government but were known, like Zaccheus, to collect more than was necessary in order to enrich themselves. They were despised by the Jews. Simon, on the other hand, was a Zealot. Matthew 10:3-4 seems to emphasize the contrast by referring (to himself) as “Matthew the tax collector” and “Simon the Zealot.”
Allen Ross describes Zealots this way:
The name ‘”Zealot” was first used by Josephus to describe the militant Jews in the War of 66-70. But the designation has come to be used of all who rebelled against Rome with force. The name itself is not difficult; it describes one who is filled with zeal or passionate intensity to fight for some threatened institution or ideal. The term carries the connotation of a fanatic, one who was ready to go to extreme violence against Gentile oppressors.
Calling Matthew and Simon to be among the twelve disciples would be like asking a tea party conservative and an Occupy Wall Streeter to be part of an inner circle today.
How could these rivals live, eat, and sleep side by side, day after day? How is it that a tax-collector and a Zealot would join one another in a common endeavor? Pastor and theologian, Greg Boyd, comments,
What is positively amazing is that they ministered together with Jesus to advance the kingdom of God. Just as interesting, we never find a word in the Gospels about their different political opinions. Indeed, we never read a word about what Jesus thought about their radically different kingdom-of-the-world views. What this silence suggests is that, in following Jesus, Matthew and Simon had something in common that dwarfed their individual political differences in significance, as extreme as these differences were. This silence points to the all-important distinctness of the kingdom of God from every version of the kingdom of the world.
The kingdom of God is on an entirely different plane than the kingdoms of the world. It dwarfs our political differences in significance. Jesus initiated a different political standard which those such as Matthew and Simon could hold in common. What would it look like for Christians to take an approach to politics and political opponents that corresponds to the behavior and attitude of Jesus? It could lead us to a totally different paradigm by which we may think about and engage politics and social action.
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