Politics and religion

Published 8:37 pm Tuesday, March 23, 2021

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By Scott Baker

Although many have been warned not to do so from an early age, most of still can’t help discussing politics and religion. I know in the household I grew up in, one of the golden rules was to try your best to avoid these third-rail issues especially amongst family members. In some ways it is a wise axiom. These two subjects are very often charged with a lot of passion and a lot of energy.

I was thinking about this recently as we approach Palm Sunday and Holy Week. You might can understand why I would be thinking about religion in relation to this holy season; but politics?

I think we rob the gospel message (and indeed much of the bible) when we divorce it from the context in which it was written. The political atmosphere of when a particular book of the bible was written saturates holy scripture’s pages. For Christians this reaches its zenith in the arrest, trial, sentencing, and subsequent execution of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was as much a thorn in the side of the Roman empire as he was the Jewish authorities. Much of what he preached and taught had significant political ramifications. For example, when he said, “And if one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack 1 mile, carry it two (Matthew 5:41—Good News Bible).” A Roman soldier could compel and resident of the occupied territory (a Jew) to carry his pack 1 mile. However, to carry it an additional mile was grounds for court-martial. This is but one example of the many times in the life of Jesus that touched on the political climate of his day. It was Jesus’ teaching about how to live in an oppressive and abusive political system based on intimidation and violence and turn it against itself. In short, it empowered the powerless.

As we approach this holy time in the life of the church, it is a poignant time indeed to engage in, and think about, how our political system/s is/are complicit in the oppression and exploitation of others—especially the least, the last and the lost among us. Furthermore, ask ourselves how we can continue to carry out Jesus’ way of love to promote equality and justice for all people.

At the end of the day, we must remember Jesus was ultimately convicted of insurrection against the Roman empire. The religious authorities of his day were unable to carry out their ultimate goal of execution so they handed him over to the political authorities to do what they were unable to do. Indeed, creedal Christians stand and say every Sunday “For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate … (The Nicene Creed).” The religious authorities of Jesus’ time used the violent and oppressive system they were in to meet their goal of getting rid of a rabble-rousing itinerant preacher from a backwater region who was threatening their hold on power.

Ultimately, Jesus challenged the powers that be of his own day and came out a winner in the end. The price was the ultimate sacrifice, but the dividends turned out to be down right heavenly.