In some Christian denominations there is a tradition of moral discussion based on asking the question, “What would Jesus do (or say)?” Unfortunately this question in most cases is focused on individual, personal situations such as how to deal with an angry spouse, a disobedient child, finding a purse or wallet in the street, or faith-challenged friend in the hospital. These are all good considerations, BUT! We have to remind ourselves that in the Old Testament and much of the New Testament, the moral focus was not on individual morality, but rather on the actions and decisions of the whole community of Israel, of the nation, the culture, the people as a whole. Through action or inaction Israel had forsaken the Lord and turned to false gods. Judah had abandoned the covenant. Hosea’s message was that the whole nation had become an unfaithful wife and sharing her favors with other nations through unreliable treaties and worthless alliances. In the New Testament, Jesus accuses the whole party of Pharisees with hypocrisy, whitewashing the tombs of the prophets while acknowledging that their fathers had murdered them. Jesus proclaimed a New Covenant community, not just individual salvation. He came to initiate the new Kingdom of God, not merely to help you or me change our foolish ways. His kingdom was “not of this world,” but he was killed because it interfered with and challenged the values of the powers of this world, as when he overturned the tables of the moneychangers or required that people choose between what belonged to Caesar and what belonged to God. His disciples had to decide whether to follow the laws of Rome and the Temple hierarchy or the law of God as renewed and interpreted through the love of Christ.
Members of the early church could have escaped persecution if they had stayed at home to pray, quietly signifying a belief that “religion was a personal thing.” But no, they felt compelled to join in communal worship, gathering together to break bread and offer common prayer and thanks to God, as Jesus had commanded them to do, and praying “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven!” Therefore, today, I want us to think of asking “what would Jesus do?” as a community, His church, His kingdom in the midst of the kingdoms of this world. What tables of moneychangers should we as a Christian community be trying to overthrow? The tables of Wall Street and the Banks too big to fail? The tables of the “one percent?” What work of the Good Samaritan, of those who helped “the least of these,” should we be concerned to continue through our voting and protests? The goal of universal health care for every citizen of our earthly nation? How, today, should we enable little children to “come to Jesus?” By helping them to discern right from wrong using mass media and social media? But perhaps also, showing our concern for their future by providing all social classes with debt-free, quality education not only through high school, but beyond. Perhaps, collectively as Christ’s church, we should affirm the message of his parable of the laborers waiting to be hired in the marketplace, and provide job opportunity and training for all, especially disadvantaged groups, in spite of the complaints of those who have worked harder or longer that “this is unfair!”
Finally, perhaps, as members of a diverse, worldwide Christian Community, we should insist that all our earthly kingdoms strive to actualize Jesus’ message to the Samaritan woman, that racial and religious divisions of the past shall become meaningless as we learn to worship God “in Spirit and in Truth,” not on this or that mountain, acknowledging “being made of one blood, to dwell on the face of the whole earth.” If all of this smacks of mixing “politics with religion,” I reply that together we should read, mark and inwardly digest our Scriptures, recognizing that as a “people of God,” as well as individuals, we hear a calling to be active, not passive, in bringing in God’s Kingdom, to strive – with Christ’s help – to transform the kingdoms of this world, not to withdraw from them or make false peace with them.
Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer