Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Few Thoughtz: The Politics of Jesus, pt. 1

"Rather than taking a literalistic or legalistic approach, the politics of Jesus calls for scrutinizing every political policy and policy proposal by this standard: Is it based upon the command to 'love your neighbor as yourself?' That is, does it treat the people and their needs as holy? It is important that this principle not be treated as a law with layers of liturgical and organizational requirements. Rather, it is to be seen as a yardstick that at every point seeks to apply mishpat (justice), sadiqah (righteousness), and hesed (steadfast), continually demonstrated love for our neighbors to every public and private act of consequence. This is the way the politics of Jesus enjoins us to approach every question of politics and social policy (pg. 323)."

"If we look honestly and unflinchingly at the political culture in America today, it becomes clear that Jesus' judgment against the religious and political leaders of his day (in reality, they were the same) is also his judgment against the leaders of our day. America's most vocal and self-described politicians 'of faith' profess biblical beliefs while consistently acting in ways that contradict biblical justice. Worse, they portray themselves to the American masses as the definitive moral voice of America, the righteous, divinely ordained spokespersons for God to us all. Yet there is little question that if Jesus were walking among us now, he would stand against the political leaders of our day--and many of the religious leaders, too--as he stood against them in his own day (pg.329)."

Peace and blessings,

I chose to begin with these quotes, because I think they accurately characterize Dr. Obery Hendricks' position as articulated in his book, "The Politics of Jesus." The following book review will be two fold. First, I will briefly (but then again, do I ever discuss anything "briefly?"LOL) discuss the aspects of Henricks' position that I agree with, and those aspects that I disagree with. Afterwards, I will offer a potential explanation as to what factors may have influenced how he argued his position.

In a nutshell, Hendricks (2006) argues that both historically and currently, leaders (political and religious) have in some form or another misinterpreted Jesus' ministry and/or neglected critical components of His ministry. As a result, Jesus has been, and is currently regarded as a passive Messiah only concerned with our personal piety, righteousness, and salvation. According to Hendricks, this view of Jesus is inaccurate or at best incomplete because it fails to acknowledge Jesus' revolutionary nature and his mission to non-violently dismantle social injustice and economic and oppression. Through closely examining scriptures and the social, economic, and political contexts in which these scriputures were written, Hendricks passionately reminds us that in addition to His divinity and the fact that He came, died, and rose so that through Him we can be saved, He was also dedicated to changing the structures which sought to oppress and marginalize the very people He came to save (which is everyone). Whether it was feeding the five thousand, healing (restoring) the lives of those treated as social outcasts, or constantly opposing the Pharisees' and other leaders' illusions of power and dominance over "the least of these," Jesus was always about meeting people's needs (spiritual, mental, physical, and economic).

I agree with his general arguement, and that Jesus' revolutionary nature is often neglected within most political, social, and economic discourse and policies in the U.S. In addition to some political and religious arenas, I think that the media (movies, etc...) is also partly responsible for the neglect of Jesus' revolutionary nature and His emphasis on social, economic, and political change that lovingly and righteously serves all humanity. My only criticism of the book, however, is that I think that some of Hendricks' arguments that he derives from analyzing certain scriptures are somewhat "far-fetched." One example of this is his analysis of Matthew 20:1-16, which is the parable where Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven using the analogy of a householder going into his vineyard to hire workers. In the parable, the householder ends up paying the workers who were hired last and thus only worked one hour, the same wage as those who were hired first and worked for twelve hours. Hendricks argues that despite the general impression that this parable is about how God's love, grace, and mercy are available to everyone regardless of status or circumstance, the parable is actually about the oppressive condition of the workers, the low wage they were paid, and how they were exploited by the householder who hired them.

Another example has to do with his examination of Mark 5:1-10, which is the passage where a man is possed by a legion of demons and is healed by Jesus. Primarily drawing on the facts that the demons asked Jesus no to send them out of the country (as opposed to being sent out of the man), and that at the time "legion" referred to the Roman legions, which was the Roman army, Hendricks argues that the passage is not about an exorcism, but about Jesus addressing the Roman army "for its role in the upheaval that was devastating the social fabric of Israel (pg. 146)." I am in no way a biblical scholar or theologian, nor do I claim to be. I am simply saying that to me, it seems like these conclusions appear to be somewhat of a stretch. Although it is possible that his interpretations of these passages are correct, I think it is more likely that both interpretations are correct. In other words, the passages are more likely demonstrating Jesus' revolutionary nature and concern for "the least of these" though their illustrations of the equal access to God's kingdom (Matthew 20:1-16) and Jesus healing a possessed man (Mark 5: 1-10), than only demonstrating Jesus' revolutionary nature.

In the next couple of days, I will discuss my thoughts as to why I think Hendricks chose to put forth his argument in this way. Until then, stay blessed, encouraged, and speekonit...

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