You might have seen the exchange in the New York Times where the apostle Paul Ryan argues with Jesus about caring for the poor. Yeah it was cute. A caricature of Paul Ryan completely lacking perspective and empathy argues with Jesus. It is a masterpiece of a modern parable. The kind where you use Jesus to endorse your polity.
I am not interested in defending the apostle here, as he is fictitious and so are the words flowing from his mouth causing us to recoil as it would in any thinking and feeling person. What I am concerned with here is how Jesus would actually comment on our highly agenda driven American political narrative over the poor.
The obvious takeaway in this story is that republican policy flies in the face of Jesus. The idea is we should minister as Jesus does and not as the apostle Paul Ryan argues, OK I agree. But I doubt the conclusion was supposed to be to therefore we should invite more Christian healing services and create a social plan around that ministry. If it was then great, but again I highly doubt that was the direction the writer intended. So the rather large elephant looming in the room, is who actually does minister as Jesus does in this scenario?
The implication is, to minster and truly care as “Christians” say is to support democratic policies, not republican ones and clearly Jesus agrees. This is obvious from the comments which then berate Christians for not acting Christlike, and having a more excellent policy like them. So the idea is who stands up and looks more like Jesus? The answer in this case is: whoever can craft the silly notion first and place Jesus on their side and fill the opponents mouth with ideas that he hasn’t communicated.
See I am not disagreeing with Jesus sentiments here, but what I have issue with is someone framing them to be political in nature as if there is a one size fits all interpretation to his words, and that the glove it fits nicely on is democratic polices, or any polity for that matter. You could just as easy plug anyone into the scenario and make them argue with Jesus, and everyone would be aghast. But why is that? When Jesus is talking about love and relief work everyone loves him, but when he says stuff like “Go and Sin no more” and “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 8:11, 14:6) We want nothing to do with him.
The point here is that while God does encourage care for the poor and always to minster grace to the down trodden, that doesn’t mean he buys into one particular American form of social welfare. These words of Jesus are true, but he didn’t speak them in a vacuum so that any social force could come along later and claim his words and deeds as their own, while demonizing the opposition. Jesus is not for our agendas. The counter here is not that he in fact does support republican views either. Jesus is for his own name. This is why we never use Jesus as a talking head for our politic views, but allow him to speak as he did contextually to first century Jerusalem.
Ask yourself why Jesus speaks the very parable of the good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37) This parable was specifically to address a man who was testing him about how he could earn heaven while hoping to catch Jesus in a wrong application of the law. Jesus told him to love God and love his neighbor, but the man seeking to justify himself asks Jesus to clarify who his neighbor is. The story is to illustrate how the boasting man actually falls short. To use this story as the New York Times has, is the height of irony and hypocrisy. Jesus told this story to address the very man who was seeking to justify himself before others. It’s hypocrisy in conveniently invoking Jesus for a cause, while forgetting that the direction our country has gone politically has systematically tried to remove Jesus from public life. We seem to be bent on removing religious rights from the people as they seek to hold to convictions as they minister and live. So, whose been doing that again?
When Jesus says go your way to the lepers, part of the point of the story is the other nine did not return to give glory to God recognizing the healing. (Luke 17) They were ungrateful to God for what he has done, kinda like America as a whole except when wanting to use him to serve a political end. Would anyone really object to Jesus healing a man? A Pharisee would have because they hated Jesus, but again who has been acting objectively against Jesus being in the open square? Who has tried to remove the ten commandments from landmarks, and who stops their ears when prayers are made to God? Who openly opposes forms of faith that fly in the face of our most holy sexual politics?
When Jesus says how difficult it is for the rich to enter heaven was he referring to republicans? For this story, it seems to be only republicans who are wealthy and use wealth to control government policy. Jesus was so political and I never knew. Ironically again, ignoring that all Americans are wealthy compared to the world and both political parties are made up of the very elite in our country. This was told to a man again seeking to justify himself before Jesus, claiming that he was already fulfilling the law. Understand, this was a salvation issue not an indictment on all material wealth. (Matt 19:16-30) But since it was brought up, let’s look at our rich system. How many tax dollars actually make it back to schools? How many tax dollars actually make it back to supporting the poor,, and the homeless, and the widows, and the down trodden? How many tax dollars actually make America less poor, and how has that been working? Then further ask the more important question, how are we doing and where are our hearts in the matter because that is what Jesus is getting at. US.
Love God, Love your neighbors absolutely, but he is not calling us to buy into a particular political party to do so.
The final quip is that the apostle Paul Ryan here is pro-life, but Jesus would have more serious things to worry about. Because, you know, not wanting babies destroyed for our convenience doesn’t fall under the category of wanting to help the very least of these. Now since it was mentioned, in regards to abortion, being against abortion is not a democratic or even republican stance, it is a Christian one because we understand that everyone is created in the image of God. They are valuable before God and should certainly be valued by us, especially in the form of an attempting to be born baby. (Gen 1:27)
Now I get it, the argument goes “You care more for the unborn than for the poor!” Which is why this little pro-life jab was added. Well go tell all the multiple Christian ministries that feed and clothe and provide for the poor, why that doesn’t count. Go tell Crisis Pregnancy Center that their medical help is nothing before God. Go tell all the ministry that churches do in their neighborhoods, why none of that matters either. Go tell churches why their benevolence funds are useless. Go tell all the schools and hospitals and relief programs and soup kitchens that operate because of Jesus and followers attempting to honor his values, that they do not matter because the people working them may have voted republican.
Do that and then discover how backward this whole affair is. Do not cite Jesus verses to the world for political accolades, while the other hand for years has been using politics to systematically undermine his message and his followers. Do not sit in judgment on a particular political party attempting to make Jesus your poster boy.
If you want to argue a position, do so with the results you have achieved by the plans you put forth and the reasons for such, and then defend them as better than an opponents. Remember though, these are man’s opinions, which is why other well-meaning people may disagree with them. Do not presume to think that Jesus is on a side because you can find verses that work in your little narrative, which of course would work when anyone paints an opponent so poorly. I think if we were truly even asking, Jesus would turn and say to all involved “Love God and love your neighbor” but also “repent or you shall likewise perish.” Jesus message was always about himself, and calling people to God through faith and repentance.
I think the take away is, are we the one leper who returned and gave glory to God for all he has done for us, or our we the more like 9 lepers who continued on their ways not giving a thought to God, except when it serves a political end? All things we do should be brought under the authority of God, even our polity, but that only happens when Jesus is honored not used.
We come into relationship with God and that is how our world is changed for the better, not because of our political leanings.