Presidents’ Day is the perfect day to declare that Jesus – not Donald Trump — is the hope of the world.
It was the early Christians who were jailed and executed for insurrection, charged with this in the New Testament: “These people who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here. … They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus!” (Acts 17:6–7)
In a world where pledging allegiance to Rome meant declaring, “Caesar is Lord,” substituting Jesus for Caesar offered a new political orientation. Every time the early Christians proclaimed, “Jesus is Lord”, they were also saying “Caesar is not.” It was deeply and subversively political. It was as strange to say “Jesus is my Lord” 2000 years ago as it would be to declare him Commander in Chief today. It was an invitation to a new political imagination centered around the person, teaching, and peculiar politics of Christ. That’s why the early Christians were seen as a threat to power, enemies of the state, and accused of treason and insurrection.
Nearly every time Jesus opened his mouth he talked about “the Kingdom of God.” The word he used for “Kingdom” was the same word as “Empire.” It was not just something we hope for when we die, but something we are to bring “on earth as it is in heaven.” It was about bringing God’s dream to earth.
The norms of the Kingdom of God are the inversion of the world. It’s been called “the upside-down empire” – where the poor are blessed, the last come first, the hungry are filled, and the mighty are cast down from their thrones. It means aligning ourselves with the prophets who speak of beating our weapons into farm tools, rather than conforming to the patterns of violence and the business of war. Our King does not rule with an iron fist, but with a towel, humbly washing feet.
Jesus spun the whole political system on its head. He was born into the world as a baby refugee in Palestine, in the middle of a genocide. He was raised in the badlands of Nazareth, where folks said, “nothing good can come”. He wandered the world as a homeless rabbi, “with no place to lay his head.” His first miracle was turning water into wine to keep a party going. When the taxcollectors came to collect their money, he had them get a fish and pulls the money out of its mouth making a lampoon of their political games. He challenged the chosen and included the excluded. He said to the religious elites, “The taxcollectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom ahead of you.” That’s the stuff that gets you killed.
He was in constant trouble with authority, taken to jail as a political prisoner, accused of insurrection for claiming to be King. As he rides into his trial and execution, he enters Jerusalem on the back of an ass. It was wonderful street theater, and the fulfillment of prophecy (donkeys weren’t icons of power… it would have been like a President riding a unicycle into Inauguration).
His throne was a cross, and his crown was made of thorns.
Under his bloody body hung a little public service announcement: “Here’s your king.”
But, as Christians around the world remember during Lent (the season leading up to Easter) – the execution of Jesus was not the end of the story.
As Jesus was executed on the cross he made a spectacle of the powers of this world. He ripped away the veil and showed us what love looks like when it stares evil in the face. He exposed injustice and hatred, and died with grace on his lips.
The state-sanctioned execution of Jesus was the ultimate subversion of death, and power. He put death on display. And he stole the show with love. He was like water poured on the electric chair to short-circuit the whole system of death and hatred, sin and violence.
Joining the politics of Jesus is about joining revolution. It’s a revolution that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free. It is a movement of resistance, standing against everything that destroys the life and dignity of others. It is a new way of thinking about what power really is, and what love really looks like in public.
So we are hopeful people in 2017, but not because we have found a candidate that fulfills our deepest hopes – but because we have learned how to hope differently. My hope does not lie in a person or a party, or even America. My hope this Presidents Day, and every day, is in Christ alone.
As the old hymn goes, “Our hope is build on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness… all other ground is sinking sand.” And there is a lot of sinking sand thesedays.
Enough donkeys and elephants… long live the Lamb of God.