“Well, Jesus would be the best candidate, but since he isn’t running…”
I’ve seen friends express this sentiment quite often recently, with a wry digital chuckle, as an explanation and justification of their choices at the polls.
Thing is, I’m not certain Jesus could even win our votes if he did stand for election. Hell, I don’t even think he’d make it past the primaries. Oh sure, Christians would feel like we had to vote for him. That’s why, for the sake of the hypothetical, we’ll have to give him an assumed name to run under. Yeshua ben Yosef sounds too Middle Eastern anyway. So how about Jebus? Yeah, that’s it: Roy Jebus.
So would we really vote for ‘Roy Jebus’?
A Foray into 1st-Century Politics
This isn’t ‘Roy’s’ first rodeo. He’s got some campaign experience, having run for office back in the 1st century. He didn’t win the popular vote (though as Nixon could tell you, the second time’s a charm).
He emerged in a charged political climate. Almost all 1st-century Jews took it on faith that their nation held a unique and privileged place in God’s order. Yet they’d fallen from grace after departing from God’s law. Now, in order to see Him establish His kingdom in their midst once again and return them to their former glory, they needed to return the nation to God.
A few major problems stood in the way of this agenda. Problem one: too many immigrants. A great many 1st-century Jews were red-blooded patriots, who saw an influx of foreigners as a threat to their national identity. Things had gotten so bad that Italian immigrants were running the whole damn country! So they needed a strong leader to secure the borders and to round up the undesireables and traitors for expedited deportation.
Problem two: moral decline. Some – namely, the very popular Pharisee party – felt that people just weren’t serious enough about upholding the hallmarks of Jewish distinctiveness: keeping the Sabbath, maintaining kosher and purity regulations, and adhering to the stipulations of the Hebrew Torah. As such, they tended to shun certain groups with questionable morals, such as loose women, Gentiles, and of course, the worst sinners and collaborators of them all, tax collectors.
The First Campaign
Well, along came Jesus, proclaiming the coming Kingdom of God. Here’s how he launched his campaign:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
Hey, that doesn’t sound too bad and if Jesus had just wrapped things up there, he might have had his listeners on the hook. But he didn’t wrap it up there.
Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah…yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.
Luke 4:24-27, NRSV
Wow. So he said God actually looked after Gentiles. And to prove this wasn’t simply an unguarded gaffe, Jesus later made this statement:
Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith [as this commander of an occupying foreign military unit]. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 8:10-12, NRSV
Hang on…a kingdom that actually welcomed foreigners? The absurd suggestion that they had as much claim to the kingdom as the native population? Let’s face it, if these were supposed to be stump speeches for a majority audience, then Jesus needed to fire his team of writers, or maybe just dial down the improv and stick to the teleprompter.
Then, there were Jesus’s suspect morals. He happily associated with low-rent types, eating with tax collectors, ministering to prostitutes and untouchables, and accepting sinners. He even set aside strict observance of Sabbath law to provide free healthcare, seemed careless with respect to kosher and purification practices (he let diseased people cling to him, for God’s sake!) and presented reinterpretations of teachings in the Torah that flew in the face of conservative tradition. His support team should have warned him that this kind of bad publicity might kill him at the polls.
Nonetheless, Jesus did gather quite the crowd with his kingdom message, healing and the complimentary lunches he handed out. Of course, they had to listen to a bunch of cryptic metaphorical yarns about how his campaign would expand, hidden from view, like some unseen force of nature.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Matthew 13:31-33, 44
Nice stories, with some undeniable small-town charm, they must have thought, but when’s this guy going to morph into the name-taking, ass-kicking warrior king we’ve been waiting for?
The Second Campaign?
The more things change, the more they stay the same. It makes me wonder how we would actually react to another campaign by Jesus – or ‘Roy Jebus’. How would we respond if ‘Roy’…
- ended up being ‘soft’ on immigration?
- spoke against violence toward our enemies and claimed that we shouldn’t resist evildoers?
- suggested that if we continue to draw guns, we’ll continue to die by them.
- advocated sharing freely from our abundance?
- proposed that our morality could be measured by how we care for the sick and those in poverty?
- associated not just with conservative evangelicals, but with gays, lesbians, feminists and liberals?
- asserted that we could no longer split our loyalty between the Kingdom of God and the American flag?
No Room for Losers at the Top
Jesus came off second best in his first election. The people chose Barabbas instead. It made sense, since he was really more ‘their kind of people’: someone who wasn’t afraid to stand up to government corruption and foreign influence, a flag-waver, who had a background fighting for freedom.
And I’m forced to believe that the outcome for ‘Roy Jebus’ would be the same – because our votes regularly suggest that he’s not really the person we’re looking for. Sadly (but not without a twist of comic irony), I suspect there would be many of us who would pack campaign rallies and debates, carrying signs bearing this campaign slogan: ‘Give us Barabbas!’
- Featured Image: I put this together from a clipartfest.com image of Jesus (https://clipartfest.com/download/378eefa8a812cbc9c963a91fcd29ff0ce3c7d237.html) and an image from ABC News, from the article, ‘White House Correspondents’ Association: ‘Both Clinton and Trump Can Do Better” in Treatment of Press’
- Campaign poster for Barabbas: Created from a generator at postermywall.com and an image from The Passion of the Christ.