Friday, May 26, 2017

Winner Takes All


I've heard people cite Jesus' instruction to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" as an example of Christ delineating between the secular and the sacred. The popular American ideology that springs from this divides our lives into two categories: God is only after "spiritual things" like my saved soul, sincere heart, regular Scripture reading, solemn meditation/prayer, charity, and church attendance, we often think. He is not concerned—and neither should clergy be, if they know what's good for them—with 90% of my finances, my political outlook, and most everything else that falls within the sweeping "practical" or "secular things" category.

I don't think this is what Christ was saying at all when he held up the Roman denarius with Caesar's image imprinted upon it (Matthew 22). This is, however, what the Herodians, the Gentiles, and other earthly minded passers by would hear (Jesus' words were often multifaceted and intentionally layered). "This man is harmless," they'd think. Those attempting to ferret out Jesus' politics, would likely conclude, "He is something of a Gnostic who cares only for the unseen world." To Jesus' Jewish audience, however, they would instantly recall the "Imago Dei," how God has made humanity in his image. Jesus is saying that Caesar, shortsighted as he is, can have the metal with his imprint. God, however, lays claim to the person, body and soul. This should not be seen as a dividing of the spoils between God and Caesar. Any fool knows that if you get the man—his body, his mind, his heart, his soul, his ambitions and dreams, everything he is—you get everything else too. There is no aspect of life, of art, conflict, politics, economics, human sexuality, race, etc. that will not be affected (or "redeemed," to use biblical vernacular) by a reborn kingdom citizen.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Counted Worthy of Suffering


Many of my brothers and sisters have justified our dubious political alliances as unfortunate “necessities.” “We must use political power,” we say, “to fight the rise of religious persecution so that we can get on with the important business of declaring the Gospel.” But we forget that the Gospel is most powerfully demonstrated in our suffering, through our patient endurance, when we refuse to strike back or avenge ourselves, as we relinquish our rights, and instead say “Father forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing” (“the victory of the cross will be implemented through the means of the cross,” explains N.T. Wright). We can’t accomplish our calling by seeking to evade it, and we can't expect to retaliate against our cultural and political adversaries and then afterwards effectively share with them a message of grace and forgiveness. A Gospel declaration without a clear Gospel demonstration always rings hollow to the hearer.
The current sociopolitical climate is characterized by fear, bitterness, and a reckless quest for vengeance that is dressed as righteous indignation. It has all the polarizing tribal “us” and “them” hallmarks of a genocidal civil war in the making. It seems the American branch of the “royal priesthood” would benefit from a reminder of our calling to be peace-makers, ministers of reconciliation, and faithful ambassadors of his cross and kingdom. Perhaps we could use a hearty refresher on the theology of suffering (what much of our family around the world lives so well). Lest we forget the counterintuitive genius of God, who bested Pilate, Herod, Caesar, and the unseen rulers behind them, disarming and subjecting them all to public shame with a bloodied Galilean who willingly hung naked on a cross (Colossians 2:15). And the ancient world was "turned upside down," not by political prowess or military might, but by the power of his Gospel as beautifully displayed in the blood-soaked Colosseum of Rome where an unstoppable Spirit-filled army of his offspring said in word and deed "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." We don't seek out suffering, but it will certainly find us (John 15:18-21). And when it does, we mustn't compromise the Gospel which we claim to represent in our efforts to escape (no matter how good our intentions may be). To paraphrase Wright: Our suffering is not an unfortunate side effect of following Christ; it is the primary means by which he conveys his good news to a broken world.

Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” - John 12:27-28a

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” - Mark 8:34b

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” - Acts 5:41

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery,

which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” - Colossians 1:24-27