What have I learned from government? This is a writing challenge posted by Robert Hruzek of Middle Zone Musings. I must admit, my initial reaction was to pass this one by. After all the mud-slinging, all the name calling, all the nastiness of the election, all the objectionable emails that came through my inbox, I really just didn’t want to touch the subject of government with….well, a ten-foot poll (pun intended).
But something just wouldn’t let me put it down. The thought that kept popping into my mind was….“What would Jesus say about government?”
What would Jesus say? In fact, what did he say? Jesus lived in a very volatile time time as far as government was concerned. We think of the years of Jesus’ life as, well….the time of Jesus. And rightfully so. But, it was also a time of upheaval and tension as far as the government was concerned in the Holy Land. I know what you’re thinking…when hasn’t it been such a time there? And yet, Jesus lived during one of the most critical periods of government in the history of Israel.
Israel was living under foreign rule, under an empire whose religious practices and way of life was nothing less than repugnant to the Jewish people they had invaded. To the Jews, who cherished their laws and their faith more than any other people, how difficult it must have been to accept this other government, this rule of pagans and tyrants, this invasion of their very essence. In many ways, it must have felt like the rape of a whole society.
On top of this, amongst the Jewish people themselves there was a certain amount of upheaval and disorder. Different religious sects and factions disagreed on various doctrinal issues. Sadducees and Pharisees argued about the law, and grappled over issues of state and daily life with the ever-present Roman authority. It was a country broken, weighed down, stumbling under the burden of a fractured faith and foreign government. It was a country oppressed by an impending sense of doom, a gathering of the storm, the ever-present sorrow of the fear that its days were numbered.
Israel was a conquered country, broken, bent, bleeding, waiting….longing….for a Messiah. For a saviour.
Into this came Jesus, son of God, Messiah, saviour of saviours.
And the Israelites, naturally, wanted him to come with his armies. The minions of Yahweh armed and numbered in the hundreds of thousands, to wipe their homeland clean of the stench of sin and depravity that had lodged itself into their land, this foreign and pagan government that had forced them to their knees. But this was not to be.
Jesus had a different message. Be still. Judge not. Love one another. Forgive your brother. Could Jesus have accepted, respected, or shared any common religious or governmental beliefs with the pagan armies that occupied his homeland? Certainly not. Their debauchery, their wrongful invasion and rule must have been even more of an outrage to he who knew perfection, than it was to the Pharisees and Sadducees of his day. And yet, Jesus never slung mud. Jesus didn’t preach that his people should rise up against this outrage and take back their rightful land…this land that was, after all…Given To Them By God Himself.
Instead, when asked about taxation (a burden imposed on them which took much and offered nothing in return…and a question which one could easily be executed for if one answered wrong), Jesus did something at once simple and profound. Matthew 22:17-22 tells us the story:
“Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.” (NIV)
He did not respond with rage or harsh words, he just stated it like it was. His take on money was that we should be good stewards of it, that it should be used to help the poor, to further the cause of the Kingdom of Heaven. To become too attached to it was to risk making it into an idol. It’s earthly stuff, and we can’t take it with us.
Later, in Romans, Paul writes… “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13:1-7, NIV)
Jesus taught us to live with respect, to fight with Love, to forgive, to endure, to step forward in faith. To love our neighbor, to hate sin and confront it head on–and yet not allow sin to bring you to hate your brother, or sin yourself. He taught us that we can live under any authority and not compromise our faith, our morals. He taught us to protest evil…even with our very lives…and yet to be a powerful force for healing, for peace. Jesus could have overthrown the Roman armies with a word, with a glance. And yet, he spent the time he had here healing, loving, repairing broken souls. He was honest in everything and never hesitated to speak Truth, even to save his own life.
This does not mean that we must change our beliefs, or that we must agree with everything our government chooses to do, or even believe in everything it stands for. If there is corruption, sin, poverty, grief, lost souls, suffering people…if these things exist in our country (and in what earthly country don’t they exist?) then it is our duty as Christians to speak out, to care for the poor, to share the Good News, to bring hope to the suffering and aid to the poor. This is what Jesus did during his short years here, despite the extreme government he was born under. It means that we should learn to submit, that we should do what we can at the heart of the matter, starting with our neighbor and trusting with our hope in God that it will trickle up. Of course we vote because we, unlike the Israelites of Jesus’ time, have that right. Of course we cast our ballot in the way that we feel in our hearts is right. We’re blessed to be able to do that.
But we do so with respect. We don’t allow salt water to flow from our mouths, we don’t lower ourselves by letting poisonous words carelessly drop from our lips, by letting the bitter things we say mar the image of what a Christian should be. We don’t allow government…whatever we feel about it, whatever party is in power…pollute our souls. We pray for our leaders, we hold them up to a loving God who (for reasons He knows and we don’t need to) has raised them up over us. Because whatever authority we live under here on Earth, whatever government is in power…is not what rules our hearts. Our true government is that of Heaven, our state is Eternal, our souls are under the command of a loving God who is in complete control of everything! Complete, loving, control of Everything. Now that’s a campaign promise! And you can rest assured it will be kept.
Edit: My good friend Dawn posted some other examples of Scripture that relate to this post, and they are so good that I wanted to share them. Here they are:
Acts 4:23-31 Acknowledging God’s Power and Direction even in the case of Herod and Pilate and the crucifixion of Christ.
25You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
” ‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
26The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
against the Lord
and against his Anointed One.[c]'[d] 27Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people[e] of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
31After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Vs. 9 really hits home. How are we focusing on doing good and showing love when we are spending out energy quarreling.
1Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men….(there’s a lot of great stuff in between, but this is getting too long so I suggest looking it up or reading Dawn’s comment on this post!)
9But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.
and finally 1 Peter 2:13-25
13Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 16Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.