February 18 – Jesus and identity politics

February 18, 2020 Randy Bushey

~by Randy Bushey

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people…Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed Him (Matthew 4:23,25).

There’s no way around it.

Jesus was – and continues to be – a highly controversial figure.

And in the 1st century, Christ created a spiritual and political cultural tidal wave. It swept across Judea beginning with the ministry of John the Baptist at the Jordan River.

He was soon the talk of Jerusalem, quickly cascading north through rural Galilee and ricocheting back to the Holy City with never-before-seen authority and power…and opposition.

Thousands simply, literally followed Jesus.

The authorities of His time – both religious and political – saw Him at the centre of a highly-charged controversy. He was a polarizing figure. His must be a subversive agenda.

And so the Jewish elite were suspicious, cynical and mistrusting.

In reality, they were also threatened and fearful of His major spiritual movement, particularly because of His clear and intentional heavy political pronouncements.

However, Christ’s political message was unlike any other in all of human history. Rather than advancing the cause of a nation, ethnic group, or religion Jesus of Nazareth insisted on proclaiming the coming Kingdom of God.

And His place in it.

For His hearers, His was a message of identity politics.

Those who defined themselves as His disciples – and were therefore citizens of the coming Kingdom – would be clearly branded by radically different attitudes, commitments, behaviours and objectives.

There had been other messiah-like figures promising great upheaval and revolution. But what incited terror in the hearts of His opponents was that His assertion of the near approach of God’s Kingdom was accompanied by the irrefutable evidence of His frequent, unexpected and dramatic miraculous healings.

However, in the face of the audacious proof of His identity, Jesus’ adversaries judged and rejected Him.

He was not offering the type of kingdom they wanted. He was not calling for kind of righteousness they were exhibiting

In His most famous monologue – the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) – Jesus explains what it is to live as a citizen of God’s Kingdom, living for God’s glory.

The 3 chapters of His sermon can be summarized as dealing with Kingdom requirements, Kingdom results, Kingdom responsibilities, and Kingdom righteousness.

And in so doing, He flips common sense on its head!

While many lived a hand-to-mouth, day-to-day existence, His disciples were to rather be identified as those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).

In a society where legalistic self-righteousness and religious superiority were seen as co-existing in the Pharisees, Jesus placed a high premium on moral purity as demonstrated by humility, contrition, and mercy.

And rather than exhibiting personal swagger and bombastic self-promotion, He promised, Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

He invited prospective Kingdom citizens to look up, trusting God to meet their needs: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? (Matthew 6:25).

Rather than prioritizing the quest of satisfying personal needs, Christ calls on His followers to pursue authentic righteousness. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness (v.33a).

They were not to ignore the necessary activities of life or forsake their daily work. But a privilege of being a citizen of His Kingdom and trusting in a loving Heavenly Father to providentially look out for their physical needs was this: all these things will be given to you as well (v.33b).

Takeaway: the Gospels record 20 times when Jesus invited His curious onlookers to follow Me.

It was identity politics, Kingdom-of-God style. These folks were invited to literally tag along with this itinerant, peripatetic teacher, and so identify with Him: under His command, His authority, at His service, and for their learning.

And so it is today: that same spiritual/political movement continues based on our primary identity – belonging to Christ, seeking His righteousness, and pursuing His Kingdom.

~graphic by Steven Goodwin, freeimages.com