Sunday, June 28, 2009

Crying for Freedom

Last weekend, I was riveted by the Twitter thread and live-blogging from the streets and rooftops of Iran. It was thrilling to hear of regular people making a decision to take back the power that had been used against them; it was, however, tragic when it sank in that these voices belonged to real people who were being beat up and even killed for taking such a stand. The thrill was diminished when I considered that if my family were there, I'd probably prefer that my young adult children not participate in such high-stakes speech. And yet, guiltily, I do want the people of Iran - particularly the women of Iran - to prevail in their efforts to have their say over the powers that seem to have stolen their votes in their country.

So what would be worth such risks, if it were me and mine? What does Jesus really think about these issues?

Despite the tendency all his followers have had to co-opt Jesus for whatever their cause has been over the millennia, Jesus in the Bible seems to be relatively disinterested in the political fray of his day. It wasn't that the situation was any better - Israel was occupied by a pagan empire that regularly offended Jewish values. The people were overtaxed by the occupiers and again by their own people who collaborated with the Romans. Their local rulers didn't stand up for them against the Romans, and their local religious leaders added to their burdens.

When Jesus arrived on the scene at the start of his ministry, the zealots - the activists who were trying to undermine or overthrow the Romans - thought he might be recruited for their cause, but Jesus paid them no mind. When Roman taxes were due, Jesus paid them (however supernaturally).

Jesus just as quickly distinguished himself from the party of the Pharisees, who were trying to get everyone to obey the Jewish law meticulously, the better to encourage God to bring Messiah to overthrow the Romans -- Jesus intentionally healed unworthy "sinners" over and over again on the Sabbath, to the Pharisees' outrage, proclaiming that God had made the Sabbath to serve humanity, not humanity to serve the Sabbath.

Everyone who tried to get Jesus on their side wound up disappointed. The gospels display a Jesus who was quite clear what his cause was, and he didn't make alliances with other causes: his cause was God's "kingdom," the emerging of God's rule over a new administration and a new tribe, the beginning of a new thing that was going to endure right through the end of the world and beyond. This new thing would be made up of people who had been made entirely new from the inside out, spiritually, by him, and these people would begin to display his characteristics and to do what he did in this world. What they created together was supposed to show the world how things are when God is in charge.

That new thing is what the church is supposed to be, and it does still endure, even though it is surrounded by a whole lot of fluff and mess that Jesus' followers can't resist creating, too. The real "kingdom" of God is supposed to be our main cause, and never to be supplanted by any other. The kingdom is where earth's inhabitants are supposed to find real freedom, real healing, real acceptance, real love. From that kingdom, we earth-dwellers who belong to Jesus can also engage on issues of war and peace, prosperity and poverty, propriety and freedom - but without losing sight of the eternal big picture and for whom we always work (and why: there is no freedom while we are estranged from our Maker).

I believe in freedom; I believe in free speech and voting rights and democracy. I think that in our broken world these are the best ways for humans to thrive (and while we are at it, the best circumstances under which the church can thrive). But they are not my main cause and can never be: I'm already taken by the kingdom of God.

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