One of the sad facts about American Christianity is that many Christians are ignorant of the political nature of Jesus’ message. Preferring to see Jesus in only spiritual terms, and his message as only about salvation and heaven, we often miss the significance of Jesus as a political figure.
I don’t mean to suggest that we should see Jesus like we see politicians today. Rather, we should gain a better understanding of the historical reality that Jesus preached a political and prophetic message that constantly challenged the political leaders of his day.
In being a prophetic and political voice, Jesus was carrying forth the traditions of Israel’s prophets, who were called by God to confront the leaders of Israel with their injustices. These leaders, who were to be the shepherds and caretakers of God’s people, were charged by God to govern people with justice, to strengthen the weak, to feed the hungry, and to shelter the displaced and homeless. These leaders were charged by God to be generous in their leadership, and they were judged by God when they kept their positions through political compromises with the rich and powerful. When Israel’s leaders failed in their God ordained responsibilities, the prophets served as the voice of God’s judgment.
It is this same prophetic and political message that must continually challenge the politicians of our day. In many respects, our government leaders have failed in their faithful roles as shepherds of the people, for they have failed to feed the sheep, to strengthen the weak and to heal the sick. Like the political leaders judged by Jesus, they have cared for themselves and their political agendas and friends.
In a year in which we have a serious choice to make concerning the political direction of our nation, we should be asking our leaders some very serious questions about their leadership. Why can’t the richest country in the world provide health care for all? Why can’t we provide sustainable jobs that pay salaries to help people provide for their families? Why are we giving more and more money to military spending and less to social programs? Why do our leaders side with corporations and abandon the people who elected them to office? Why don’t these leaders work for creative solutions to solve our more basic and needful problems?
Many of our politicians like to talk about moral values, especially around election time. Abortion, gay marriage and other issues are usually those that are at the forefront of the debate. While these are moral issues, the greatest moral crisis facing our nation is not abortion, and it is certainly not gay marriage. The greatest moral issue that faces us today, and one about which Jesus spoke the most, is poverty. Consider the following statistics related to the issue of poverty.
One in every six children in America lives in poverty; that’s 13 million children. Thirty-six million people live below the poverty line. About 4 million families exist in a chronic state of hunger. Forty-five million Americans have no health insurance coverage; 8.4 million of these are children. These are tragic statistics, but they do not even scratch the surface for they do not reveal the desperate problem of inadequate housing and a substandard education.
The scandal in all of this is that our political leaders are not solving these real problems, because they spend their time blaming each other instead of working together to provide real leadership and permanent solutions to the problem of poverty.
We have the power to change things, if we only will. Like Jesus, we need to have a sincere consciousness about the plight of people in our country, especially the poor. In developing such a consciousness, we must hold our leaders accountable until they make real progress in solving the poverty of this nation, and indeed, our world.
Poverty is not just a political issue. It is not just an economic issue. It is a moral and spiritual issue; the one about which Jesus and the prophets were most concerned. We have a moral and godly responsibility to care about this issue and especially the people caught in the seemingly inescapable web of poverty. To do so is to live the real political message of Jesus.
Drew Smith, an ordained Baptist minister, is director of international programs at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Ark. He blogs at Wilderness Preacher
Assistant Director of the Honors College at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.