It is Holy Week for Christians and there is a lot of chatter about politics. Nothing changes it seems; 2,000 years ago the story was about politics too.
This week it is about “the first primary” results for 2008 presidential race. This primary wasn’t about collective votes. It was about collective dollars. In order to be a legitimate presidential candidate next year, the conventional thinking goes, one has to raise buckets of dollars this year.
Sen. Clinton raised $26 million, Sen. Edwards brought in $14 million. Gov. Romney took in north of $20 million and Mayor Giuliani around $14 million. We haven’t heard from Sen. Obama yet but he’ll probably be fine. By the time all the dollars are counted nearly $125 million will have been raised to fund the campaigns – and this is just for the primaries that are a year away. Fund raising is just getting started.
A huge chunk of that money came from politically-inclined Christians on both sides of the political aisle. Their motives for giving are certainly good ones – America is facing grave problems overseas and serious problems at home as well. America need help. Politicians are promising answers. Christians want politicians to have the answers.
This is the same problem Jesus dealt with 2,000 years ago.
When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for Passover, he did so with the broad expectation upon him that Israel’s Messiah had finally come. Despite his talk about suffering and dying and living again, his disciples still saw him as the conquering political and military leader who would deliver Israel from its oppression at the hands of the Romans (among others).
Jesus was the Messiah – but of a different sort. He was the Lamb of God; he was going to sacrifice himself for his people. He would conquer something greater than Rome. He was going to conquer death. And he did. In so doing, however, he disappointed many who wanted political conquest more than they wanted the spiritual conquest of death – man’s greatest enemy.
Why politics? Because then as now, politics is easy to understand. It has such clear lines. There are the “winners” and the “losers”. The promises are easy to understand too – “kicking out the Romans” and “preventing terrorism;” “easing taxation” and “easing taxation” and so on. Politics is easily fought – there are the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” It is an easy religion.
But Jesus’ call is so much more complicated, so much more demanding, so much more in need of self-reflection, so much harder. Jesus calls us to say no to ourselves and to our lusts for power. Jesus requires that we look at the world through a different lens – not a lens of power but a lens of self-denying service. Jesus extends to us a love so powerful we cannot fully grasp it. And Jesus says that the best way to change lives is to give ours for others.
This is not to say Christians have no role in politics. It is to say that in this Holy Week, it is time to make sure that priorities are straight. Historically one way to do that is through a fast; through a time of denial.
I’ve suggested that Christians take a temporary fast from politics – from giving money, from volunteering time, from obsessing about the political – and instead give that time, money, and energy to serving and helping the poor and those in need. It certainly isn’t as sexy as politics. But perhaps it is much more like what Jesus would have us do.