Father Mark, Reflections

Jesus and Politics: Part II

No, I didn’t make a mistake.  It was my intention to leave the subject matter blank in my previous journal entry, “Jesus and Politics.”  Why?  Because Jesus never involved himself with politics.  Why?  Because he was not willing to compromise his soul nor his mission.  

Since politics seems to be getting a hotter subject that we are all “sick and tired of,” I thought I would reflect about what the gospels say about it. I will do my best to be a-political and gospel centered.

“My kingdom is not of this world,” (John 18) Jesus says (present tense as his Word still speaks).   Jesus was in the world but would not subject himself to its ways.   He would serve the world out of the Spirit of the His Father but not out of human political philosophy.  Much of the contrast between the two can be understood in the concepts of two kinds of power and Hegelian philosophy.

The power understood in our world is that of the ability to have some kind of control over what happens in the environment—over property, people and guidelines of operation.   The source of that power, its values and the integrity of the spiritual core underlying those values determines the quality of outcome in the question:  “Whom does the power serve?”  Of course this question is rarely asked for obvious reasons.  It is not difficult to understand the words of the Lord Acton who observed the way governments in Great Britain, the United States and around the world used power:  “Power corrupts.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”   The larger and more complex a governing body becomes the greater that power will be assumed and that power will become self-serving to some and abusive to others.  

Jesus wanted no part of this.  Jesus was continually asked when he would restore the Kingdom to Israel—even moments before his Ascension after three years of teaching and 40 days of reinforcement of that teaching after his resurrection.   Jesus’ Kingdom was not about restoring that type of kingdom to its old form.  As the disciples and St. Paul later realized is that the new Kingdom is within. 

The other fly in the ointment is summarized in a dynamic of Hegelian Philosophy which encompasses the functioning of this world.  Hegel observed that individuals and groups often function at opposite ends of a polarity.  He used the terms Thesis vs. Antithesis.   A people or group would be polarized from its opposite.  The next step would be (Synthesis) when both parties would compromise their positions to obtain a less desirable outcome.   The synthesis/compromise historically doesn’t last long because in the world there are those who desire more power and its result, control.   

This is why the Founders and Framers desired and formed a way of government that restricted those in “office” (note that I did not use the word “power”) from the abuse of power, allowing the people to negotiate their own interactions and hopefully live out their lives under the guidance of God as they understood God.   Ultimately, this is the only way where humankind can live in harmony with God, others and creation—and also themselves.  Sin creates imbalance in human beings and the seeking of power to compensate (falsely) for its spiritual distress.  Polarity is created followed by more suffering. We remember in Matthew 18 (Luke 9), the disciples asking, arguing and in another instance their mothers asking about “Who would be the greatest?”  Jesus’ intervened to turn the old kingdom mindset on its head.  Great means less.  Servant means more.  The two Kingdom paradigms do not play well together.  Jesus offers us transcendence over the polarities.   I recall a line a former spiritual director of mine who used this phrase to illustrate this point:  “If you give me a choice between Choice A and Choice B, I will take Choice C, thank you very much.”   The Holy Spirit transcends the polarization of this world by incarnating us with a new kind of power—the Presence of the same Spirit in us.

Jesus’ Kingdom, not of this world, lives by another dynamic—one that is not polarizing.   Living out of the dynamic of the Holy Spirit is congruent with the Father’s order in Creation. People are led and empowered by the power of the same Spirit, to bring the Spirit of Life into people so they live by God’s Spirit and power, being directed to treat others, property and life as entities to be served.  The Kingdom of God in which Jesus lives, creates balance and harmony that the world, in its polarized, dualistic, “me vs. you” state, cannot.    The other problem with the polarized Thesis vs. Antithesis and compromised Synthesis is that both sides compromise on what they want and what God wants rarely enters the picture. 

As much as Jesus eschewed politics, I find it ironic in a way that the political systems of his time sought him.  The Jewish political system embedded in their structure felt Jesus’ “not of this world” Kingdom’s power, as did Herod, which found its way up the hierarchy into Pilate’s and Roman hands.    Jesus’ power attracted the people, especially the people who had no power at all and gave them a Power that they would feel from this inside where Divine Power lives instead of coming as pressure (often oppressive) from the outside. The Pharisees and Herod felt this shift in power infringing on their sense of power and control. Their growing anxiety could have been assuaged by receiving that Power from above in Jesus’ Kingdom.  But being blind to it and not bothering to understand, the only alternative in a polarized mind is to stomp the other out. 

So what about us?  How are we to live as Spirit-led people in the midst of a political system?  This is between you and the Holy Spirit.   Only the Holy Spirit can plant and continue to replant the “not of this world” realm of Christ in each of us to serve as Jesus would.   Prayer, searching scripture, spiritual community discernment are ways to discern what the Spirit is doing. 

There are a few guidelines I use to help me differentiate which kingdom I am serving whether it be, church, government, club, no matter.   I observe when people use the authority granted them by the people to expand their ideas without the consent of the people.  I question decisions made without discerning about the long term consequences on people and all the social systems involved.   Instant gratification usually revolves around cloaked personal self-interests at the expense of others.  I am wary when officials continue to assimilate the property of those of the people without they are supposed to serve without their consent, resulting in a burden for the people.   My ears perk up when groups/officials begin to expand their sphere of influence past boundaries that belong to God, individuals and groups to decide.   These are examples of the “kingdom of this world” paradigm. 

I wonder how each of you discern the difference between the Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of this world?   One thing for certain, living by the discernment of the Holy Spirit is an active, not passive, phenomenon, requiring day by day, moment by moment awareness of what God is attempting to do to create, redeem and restore the world God made.   Truly Meister Eckhart knew that incarnating the Spirit into us and the world is like a birthing process for “God is always waiting to be born.”

Prayers for your Spirit-led journey,

Fr. Mark