By Shawn Boonstra*
A college student at the Occupy L.A. encampment, who sees the protests as a “social revolution,” recently decried the rather glaring shortage of religious people involved in his cause to the Los Angeles Times. “We all say, ‘WWJD’ – What Would Jesus Do?” he told reporters. “He would be here.”
Would He? Conservative evangelicals would likely disagree, preferring instead to see Jesus on the other side of American dissatisfaction, attending Tea Party rallies and helping push America back to its religious roots. Of course, no self-respecting liberal would agree: Jesus, they would emphasize, is clearly about social justice and toppling corporate greed.
But students of the Bible ought to ask themselves if Jesus can safely be co-opted by either movement. His earthly ministry took place in the context of tumultuous political times. Israel was occupied by a foreign power, and there were plenty of voices promoting the idea that something ought to be done about it. Messiah, some said – whoever He should prove to be – would rule with a rod of iron. He would obviously overthrow the Roman oppressor.
One of Jesus’ key P.R. problems, however, had to do with the fact that He was decidedly apolitical. You will search the gospels in vain to discover any reference to Jesus participating in a grass-roots political movement. In fact, when He was told about Pilate slaughtering Galilean protesters at the temple (Luke 13:1), it’s abundantly clear that He was not involved in the protest.1 When asked about the justice and legality of paying tribute (Matthew 22), He neatly separated the realms of religion and politics: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Jesus wasn’t at the protest, and He wasn’t counted among those who were trying to seize the reigns of government either. Would Jesus be camped with the Occupy movement, or be found carrying a placard at a Tea Party Rally? Scripture suggests that He’d be too busy preaching the gospel to show up at either.
That doesn’t mean that He is not concerned about human suffering. There’s no question that our High Priest can identify with our afflictions. But a curious story in Luke’s gospel helps clarify, to some extent, where Jesus actually stands on political and economic issues:
We have no evidence that this troubled man was pursuing illicit gain; in all likelihood, he really had been wronged by his brother, and he was simply seeking a little justice. And who better to approach than Jesus? Wouldn’t you do the same thing?
Jesus’ answer is surprising to those who have been quick to co-opt Jesus into their various causes. In essence, He tells the man that these kinds of issues are not the reason He came, and then He quickly exposes, to the rest of the crowd, the real reason we find ourselves signing up for many of the political and economic causes we undertake: stuff.
“Be careful,” He warns, “because you are so much more than your stuff.”
I’m not suggesting, not even for a moment, that Christians cannot or should not participate in the public square. Along with all of our neighbors, we are part of the larger community and should be interested in what happens. By all means, do the right thing in the public square. Speak your voice. Cast your vote. Display justice and mercy in your public interactions, because you are a child of the One who is both of those things. Care for the widows and the fatherless. Speak against tyranny if you honestly perceive it.
But be very slow to sign Jesus up for your political causes; His kingdom of not of this world. Remember that no amount of political action is going to solve the real problem with the human race, and never forget that as pressing as our immediate needs can seem, Jesus is still more concerned about lost sinners than He is about lost money.
I don’t wish to sound fatalistic, but in thousands of years, we have never solved the problem of human turmoil, and that’s because we do not have what it takes. Of all Christians, Adventists should be quick to comprehend this. Daniel’s vision of the beasts (Daniel 7) shows humanity (the waters) 2 being churned up by the winds of strife. Our collective struggles produced one human attempt to solve the world’s problems after the next, from Babylon to the little horn, and none of them succeeded. In fact, each human solution proved to be a do-it-yourself solution to the world’s problems that eventually culminated in God’s own people taking a giant step in the direction of self sufficiency: the horn that “speaks pompous words against the Most High.” (Daniel 7:25)
The real solution? “But the court shall be seated, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it forever. Then the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him.” (Daniel 7:26,27) In Daniel 2, the solution is a stone “cut out without hands” – the kingdom of Christ replacing the kingdoms of this world.
It’s a point that I wish Benedict XVI would remember: he recently took advantage of global unrest to push an item that has been on his agenda for some time: centralized governance of the world economy. On October 24, the pope kept his promise to release a proposal to that effect, releasing a 41-page document outlining what Rome sees as a solution to the world’s current economic crisis: the creation of a World Public Authority.
Before we head for the hills, we should understand that Rome expects resistance to the idea, and that this most recent proposal has been a long time in the making. As early as 1963, Pope John XXIII suggested the need for a “world public authority” in his encyclical Pacem in Terris.3 Unless the world becomes even more desperate in short order (a possibility), it is not likely that the world’s leaders (even though a few have already responded favorably to the pope’s proposal) will be quick to adopt the notion of a centrally regulated global economy.
When Benedict XVI first pitched the idea on the world stage in 2009,4 the world was in still in the opening moments of the current crisis. The proposal didn’t gain immediate traction, but Rome didn’t expect it to. Instead, she occasionally puts her toe in the pool to check the temperature, looking for ways to deepen her role as a global leader. As with proposed Sunday legislation for the European Union, the suggestion is simply raised time and time again, until it starts to seem reasonable to people or lands on an opportune moment. Popular unrest, as revealed to Daniel, often results in massive political changes that unfold in short order.
Tapping into the protest themes of recent months, the latest proposal from Rome suggests (among other things) that financial transactions ought to be taxed. While it may not win the world over to Rome’s cause, this will certainly resonate with those who believe that the global economy has been hijacked by wealthy bankers and bring a segment of the population into the fold.5 It also echoes the words of the 2009 encyclical, which stresses the “urgent need of a true world political authority,”6 which appeals to a segment of the population whose faith in local governments is quickly waning.
It would appear that Rome understands each new global crisis as an opportunity to (not so) quietly expand her influence and promulgate her ideas.7 And in doing so, she is falling completely in line with the direction Daniel said that human solutions go: successive political empires, followed by a little horn. Another human solution disguised as a spiritual one. In reality, another political solution, pregnant with human self-sufficiency and ambition, but with Jesus co-opted into the cause.
Where would we find Jesus in the heart of the world’s current mess? At rallies and protests? His current occupation provides the answer: He’s chosen to stand in heaven’s sanctuary, devoting His full attention to the same underlying problem He focused on during His earthly ministry: sinners in desperate need of reconciliation to God.
Perhaps that’s where the attention of Christians should be, too.
1. While we do not have entire clarity on the event referred to in Luke 13, it has long been believed that the most likely candidate is a protest by the followers of Judas Gaulonitis, who stood in firm opposition to paying tribute to the Romans.
2. More specifically, the waters likely represent Gentile nations. At the time, Israel thought of itself as an island in the middle of a Gentile sea.
3. Pacem in Terris, 71-74
4. See his encyclical Caritas in Veritate
5. There is much irony in the pope proposing taxes, given the way the Bishop of Rome was understood to have risen to the position of Caesar in the Western Roman Empire. He is variously understood to be the Vicar of Christ and the new Caesar all at once, which can certainly make it more difficult at times to determine whether one is rendering what is due to God or Caesar..
6. Caritas in Veritate, Section 67, 146.
7. It’s not an occasion for panic. The final pieces could fall into place in months, or it could be years. We should be slow to try and drop the October 24 proposal onto a chart of last-day events, and see it for what it is: an indication of the general direction world thought is now heading.It is an occasion to stand on God’s promised conclusion to human affairs, and to find hope in the fact that kingdom of Christ is just about here
Shawn Boonstra, an experienced pastor and evangelist, is the associate director of the ministerial department for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland. This Web commentary was published November 17, 2011.
(* Admin note: I do not claim ownership of this post which is actually found at http://www.adventistreview.org/article/4903/archives/issue-2011-1532/would-jesus-be-in-zuccotti-park – if the author of this work wishes for me to remove it, please notify me).
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