Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Politics and Religion

"I tell you No! But unless you repent you will all likewise perish"      Luke 13:5.

Two topics guaranteed to cause contention from minor disagreements to all out war are religion and politics. Jesus knew the volatility that either or both could bring to a situation. When pressed to take a stand, Jesus bypassed the surface issue and dealt with the more serious one at hand.

In context, Jesus was approached by an un-named group bearing unsolicited news. Pilate had killed a group of Galileans. Even worse, this act took place while the individuals were in the process of making an offering.

Now fortunately for us today the rumor mill is dead and buried. We have media sources committed to reporting "the truth, the whole truth and noting but the truth...so help them God." A simple Google search eliminates the possibility of falling for fake news because everything on the internet is the gospel truth.

People in Jesus' time had to rely on word of mouth for news transmissions and we know how inaccurate and biased less than professional sources can be. The incident in question here has no historical basis. Suffice to say an incident of civil unrest is prone to spark creative interpretations of the event. While living in Haiti in the final days of the Duvalier regime, the evening news from Chicago would report demonstrations and instances of violence that never happened.

What motive did the atrocity storytellers have? Was this a sincere attempt to gauge Jesus' nationalistic fervor (very important when some wanted to make Him king by force). Were these individuals on a fishing expedition backed by the Jewish authorities with the goal of catching Jesus making anti-government statements that could be reported to Pilate?

If the former, such a story as reported should have aroused an intense emotional response that could be channeled into retaliatory measures. In that kind of atmosphere it was dangerous for the person who asks, "Have you checked your sources?" Even worse is the fate of the brave soul, like Jesus, who suggests, "Our hands aren't exactly clean you know."

If the latter, Jesus provided no evidence to use against Him with the Roman authorities. On the other hand, He wasn't silent. Space doesn't permit a full overview of this scenario but, Jesus took a story designed to elicit condemnation of the political system and turned it into a religious discussion of sin, suffering and repentance. Politically charged individuals with firm convictions of justice don't take kindly to such talk.

Equating the fate of the alleged slaughtered Galileans with the victims killed in the Siloam tower collapse took great courage. This also helped pave the way for Jesus' ultimate rejection by the Jewish community. Why He wasn't physically attacked on the spot is remarkable.

Why? Political persecution (real or imagined) clouds one's judgment and can lead to the erroneous belief that this type of suffering trumps all others. Consequently, a total disregard to the plight of others, especially if their situation differs can develop.

Those convinced they're oppressed can slip into an us vs. them mentality - angels vs. devils. The oft made mistake is the belief that the struggle for one's cause makes one righteous. The more intense the conflict, the more entrenched the feelings of superiority and self-righteousness become. This heightened sense of self-importance can express itself in an arrogant refusal of any criticism.

Jesus didn't suggest that Pilate was innocent of any wrong doing. He wasn't acquiescing to Roman oppression. He did express deep concern for those who'd ultimately be destroyed if they didn't repent. He knew the danger of being so focused on the perceived evil in Pilate's heart would blind people to real deal lodged in their own. Any movement willing to heed a courageous voice of correction that reminds them that there's angels in the opposition and devils in their own camp is blessed.

The shooting at the ball field last week highlighted the polarity our nation's experiencing. Unless all are willing to take a step back, tone down the rhetoric and do some genuine self examination, things will only get worse. And the real problems that need to be solved, they'll go untouched.

The only thing the shooter accomplished was to increase fear and animosity. Going down in a blaze of glory didn't enhance his cause one iota. It produced no significant change toward his positions in the hearts of the opposition. His actions did, however, leave in their wake a lot of innocent victims wondering, "Why?" These are left to pick up the pieces and attempt to rebuild shattered lives, just because someone took the righteousness of their cause to the extreme.

How about you? How, if at all, has the last presidential election impacted you? Did it strengthen your resolve that all those on the other side are wrong, even evil? How may of your relationships have devolved into an us vs. them standoff? Are your heart, mind and ears closed to the possibility that there are angels who disagree wholeheartedly with you and devils whose positions you'd applaud? If so, without a change of mind, which is what repentance means, you might wind up losing everything that really matters.