Thirty-two years ago I wrote this short piece for an evangelistic publication. Reading it through recently, I was struck by how much of what I said then I still agree with.
Last week Chris led an excellent session on how to read the Bible as a spiritual discipline.
The Bible has power, in that it becomes a living text as it is illumined and brought alive by the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit which makes Scripture ‘Holy’. Read, interpreted and applied wisely, the Bible can and has transformed the world for the better. Read, interpreted, and applied incorrectly, it can and has wreaked havoc.
A Catholic Mass follows a liturgical pattern whereby after the Psalm has been sung, and following an Old Testament and/or Epistle reading, the Gospels are taken (as a book) to the centre of the Church, to which the congregation turn and face as a Gospel passage is read. I find this to be a really helpful visual image as to how the Bible should be read and understood. That is the reading of the Bible ‘backwards and forwards’ through the prism of the Gospels, as shown in the diagram below:
In reading the Bible backwards and forwards, what can we learn from the Gospels which will help us – as followers of Jesus (His disciples) – to live out the His teachings and to emulate His actions in the world?
Jesus is political
In its simple form, the term ‘politics’ refers to citizenship. To be a citizen is to be political by default. In His earthly life Jesus was a citizen of Judea, which in the first century was under Roman occupation and rule.
Jesus isn’t partisan (party political)
There were ‘parties’ (power blocs) in first century Judea, both political and religious. These included the religious parties of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Herodians (supporters of the Herodian Dynasty), and the Zealots, religio-political revolutionaries engaged in a violent struggle against the Roman occupiers.
Jesus doesn’t align himself with any of these groupings. Yet, he associates with all of them without prejudice – listening, giving respect (where its due). and openly disagreeing and challenging when and where necessary.
Indeed, Jesus invites members of these groupings to follow him. The twelve Apostles had among their number at a Roman collaborator (Matthew) and at least one Zealot (Simon).. His wider group of followers included Pharisees (Joseph and Nicodemus) and Samaritans. Jesus honoured a Roman Officer with the words, “…not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 7: 9).
Jesus’ attitude and approach is inclusive and generous – to all, as should ours be when engaging with the political system and political figures.
Jesus was a fully involved non-partisan political figure. On a human level, it was this that got Him killed.
Before His execution Jesus was asked by Procurator Pilate, “What is it you have done?” Jesus replies, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18: 35-36)
Jesus Kingdom ‘is not of this world’
Jesus was a citizen of Judea. He may also have been a citizen of Rome, as some have argued. Yet, Jesus came among us to proclaim another – Higher – Kingdom, of which He is ‘King’ (of kings) and we, who follow after Him, are citizens. A higher Kingdom, beyond the sectarian bickerings of human political systems, governed by a higher set of values underpinned by love.
Hi Kingdom, ‘not of this world’, is also, in the words of George Eldon Ladd, ‘now and not yet’. Simultaneously past, present, and future. As Jesus Himself is ‘the same yesterday and today and forever.’ (Hebrews 13: 8), so His Kingdom has come on earth in the event His appearing, is coming continuously via the person and presence of His Spirit, and will come in all its fullness on the Day of the Lord, when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead.
Meanwhile we pray, ‘Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as in Heaven’. The Prayer of the Lord is the Kingdom prayer. As we meditate on this prayer we real-ise the ‘now and not yet’ of Christ’s Kingdom – material provision, reconciliation, protection, and deliverance.
As David Emmott has reminded us in Week 1 of this series, prayer is active. The Lord’s Prayer is something we live out in our everyday lives. It is an ‘us’ prayer. We en-act it collectively with and on behalf of our fellow humanity. Hence, as Jesus-followers, not only do we recite the Lord’s Prayer, we seek to practice it daily, by:
- providing for the material needs of our fellow humanity. i.e. food banking (give us this day our daily bread).
- working for (and never against) reconciliation. i.e. peace-making initiatives (forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us).
- helping to protect others (and ourselves) against the negative temptations of the world. i.e. recovery programmes (lead us not into temptation).
- fighting the forces of evil in our world. i.e. actively exposing & opposing hate crime (deliver us from evil).
These are all political acts, in the sense that they each involve our active citizenship. Some of us may choose enact the Lord’s Prayer through direct involvement with a political party, while not working against reconciliation – a tough call. For others, it will involve working independently of political affiliation to achieve the same goals.
Not participating in act-ivating the Lord’s Prayer is, however, not an option.