Saturday, July 10, 2021

Jesus and Politics, Part I

We all know the disciples' names, right?  

Peter is called from being a fisherman, to a fisher of men, (Matt. 4:18-19) to a man who preaches a sermon where 3,000 people come to accept Jesus (Acts 2:41).  Wow!

We also know all the in-betweens with Peter:  how he declares that Jesus is the Messiah and how Jesus commends him for it. (Matt. 16:16-19)  Then Peter then turns around and reprimands Jesus for telling His followers of His impending death at the hands of His enemies. Jesus rebukes Peter for being a pawn in Satan's hands with his fear for Jesus' life (despite Jesus being very honest as to where His ministry is leading. ) (Matt. 16:21 & 23) 

Then, of course, there is Peter's famous denial of Jesus, his utter shame, and later his breakfast with the Savior who forgives Peter the exact number of times he had denied Jesus.  Peter looms large in the Gospel narratives, for he is large of heart and mouth.  I love Peter:  blurter, heart-felt follower, bosom buddy and dedicated warrior for his Lord. He's an inspiration to all of us who battle with our heart and head in following Jesus.

Andrew, Peter's brother and James and John are all called by Jesus to leave their nets and follow Him and work for another kind of catch.   

Then there's Thomas.  I love him too, for he will not live a life centered on Jesus based on others' encounters.  The disciples happily tell Thomas of Jesus' appearance after His resurrection.  Thomas was absent.  He responds by saying he has to personally touch Jesus where death left its mark on Him.  Thomas' experience has to be his own, not borrowed from the other disciples.  Jesus meets Thomas on his terms by appearing to him and allowing him to touch Him.  Jesus then encourages him to not be doubtful, but believe. Thomas' declaration of faith rings down powerfully through the ages:  "My Lord and my God!"  (John 20:24-28)

Then there's Philip, who wants an answer from Jesus, once and for all: Jesus, please show us this Father You are always talking about, and attributing to Him everything You do.  Philip is the spokesperson on this occasion; is he exasperated inside, a kind of let's-cut-to-the-chase kind of guy, or is he trying to clarify one of Jesus' more powerful teachings:  What exactly is this relationship between You and the Father, Jesus?  Jesus responds with a simple but profound truth:  See Me, see the Father.  I do only what He tells me to, and you too, will someday work the kind of miracles you have seen Me do. (John 14:8-12)

We all know about Judas.  He is the outsider:  the only Judaen in a group of men who are from around the Galilee.  Judas seems to care about the waste of money when Mary uses the spikenard to anoint Jesus before His death.  But John reveals Judas' real motive by calling him a "thief." John then comments that Judas helps himself to the money purse. (John 12:4-6)  We will see him betray Jesus by giving the church authorities details on Jesus' upcoming whereabouts, and how he will regret having taken the money for this betrayal. He later realizes Jesus is innocent, and this shame (along with Satan's whisperings) will drive him to hang himself. (Matt. 27:3-10)

Then there's Matthew, the Jewish man willing to work with the Romans (who are unclean, uncouth and downright abominable) and collect money to support a regime that tolerates the Jews only as a conquered people, and will lash out at them mercilessly, without a moment's notice, if the peace is disturbed in any way.  The Romans see him as a necessary evil (he collects their taxes but also probably pockets some of the money) and the Jews revile him, for he takes their hard-earned money and gives it to those people.  But Jesus calls him, and he will write the most Jewish of all Gospels, reveling in his heritage and how the Hebrew scriptures have found their fulfillment in Jesus.  

The Gospel writers briefly sketch out the lives of the disciples.  Let's go over the list of their names, and the comments are from the article whose reference is below:

Simon ("Peter")

Andrew ("his [Peter's] brother")

James ("son of Zebedee")

John ("his [James'] brother"; "disciple whom Jesus loved" )


Bartholomew ("Nathanael in John's Gospel")


Matthew ("the publican"; "Levi")

James ("son of Alphaeus")

Thaddaeus (or "Lebbaeus"); ("called 'Judas the Zealot' in some translations"; "not Iscariot")

Simon ("'the Canaanite' in some translations; "the Zealot')

Judas Iscariot (1)

Hmmm...We have fishermen, provincial laborers--in other words, men who are the salt of the earth.  Wait a minute! There are two political figures here!  Thaddaeus and Simon!  Why would Jesus pick two very politicized men to join His group, whose mission it will be to go out into the world and do work for the Kingdom of God?

I had to inquire just who the Zealots were:

Zealot, member of a Jewish sect noted for its uncompromising opposition to pagan Rome and the polytheism it professed. The Zealots were an aggressive political party whose concern for the national and religious life of the Jewish people led them to despise even Jews who sought peace and conciliation with the Roman authorities. A census of Galilee ordered by Rome in ad [sic] 6 spurred the Zealots to rally the populace to noncompliance on the grounds that agreement was an implicit acknowledgment by Jews of the right of pagans to rule their nation.

Extremists among the Zealots turned to terrorism and assassination and became known as Sicarii (Greek sikarioi, “dagger men”). They frequented public places with hidden daggers to strike down persons friendly to Rome. In the first revolt against Rome (ad [sic] 66–70) the Zealots played a leading role, and at Masada in 73 they committed suicide rather than surrender the fortress, but they were still a force to be reckoned with in the first part of the following century. A few scholars see a possible relationship between the Zealots and the Jewish religious community mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls... (2) 

Hmmm... So, if I am interpreting this correctly, we have two radical, fiercely nationalistic men, who despise the Romans (so easy to do) and want nothing short of their violent overthrow.  

In fact, the Zealots will get the war they want thirty years into the future.  Despite Jesus' warnings (Matthew 24-25--the first "End Times"), they will rebel against Roman rule, each other and after a horrible conflict, the Jewish people will be kicked out of Israel from 70 AD onward.  The Jewish people will not return to their beloved land until 1948 AD.  The Great Revolt (AD 66-70) ends up causing the destruction of their beloved Temple and a diaspora to faraway lands, among people who will welcome them, revile them, expel them and will one day largely collaborate with a new kind of Roman to exterminate them.  

Why would Jesus include men of this ilk? Men who have politicized the Torah, who have crafted a warrior Messiah (could there be any other kind of deliverer to these men?) and who look for any opportunity to insert violence into public life?  These men seem diametrically opposite of the other men Jesus picked, and yet, He did included them.


Let's dig into this the next time.  





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