Jesus on the Campaign Trail

by Brian Walsh

When Jesus was on the campaign trail he made his platform clear from the outset.

Under his administration the poor would be blessed because the whole thing was about them in the first place.

Those who mourned under the oppressive conditions of the day would be comforted.

The meek, those without power, without privilege, without capital and without land, would end up getting the whole earth.

If you were hungry for justice, if you were thirsty for a world in which things are set right, then you will be filled when Jesus takes charge in his kingdom.

And it won’t be the war-mongers, the arms dealers or those who drape themselves in the flag of violent nationalism who will be called children of God. No, that will be reserved for the peacemakers.

So don’t go worrying about the opinion polls. Don’t sweat it if they won’t let you come to the debates, or even if they laugh at you, fire you, or persecute you for the sake of this kingdom. Just remember, this kingdom is yours.

And when people asked him about things like family values, economics, taxation, military service or a whole host of other things, he always had an answer. He never equivocated or mouthed empty platitudes. Even though folks were often confused by his answers it was always a confusion born of profound cognitive dissonance, not because he was hiding what he really meant.

And the questions were never carefully managed by his handlers. No, people just came up and asked him stuff. It was almost as if he thought that these things need to be openly talked about, not packaged for ten second sound bites.

His political speeches were more akin to the story-telling of the wise than the rhetoric of the crafty. Rather than spoon-feeding folks with simple messages repeated over and over again, he would craft a new story to tell for each situation.

When people wanted to get close to him, when they wanted to tell him their own stories of sadness or oppression, he didn’t hide behind his staff and security, but let them come. And they didn’t come for cheap politics. No, they came for real hope, for real transformation, for real healing.

But Jesus knew that this was a campaign that would not end up with him elected to office. This was a campaign that would not see the routing of the opposition with the establishment of a utopian kingdom.

No, this was a campaign that would end in assassination. This was a campaign that was on a path to the capital city where he would be executed by a religious/political coalition.

So he wanted the campaign team to know that this wasn’t a normal campaign. This wasn’t politics as usual. No, this was a campaign that would end with his arrest and being handed over to the religious elite who would condemn him to death.

Then they would hand him over to the government authority with their ‘tough on crime ideology’ where he would be mocked, flogged, and crucified.

Only after such humiliation, only after such a path to the cross, would he be vindicated and the campaign would spring again to life on the third day.

Well that is a strange way to start a revolution, a strange way to represent the light, a strange way to merchandise your power, a strange way finish your campaign tour. It’s a ridiculous way to gather in the poor and a strange way to bring us hope.

And the boys on the bus thought it was all pretty strange too. In fact, for them it was so ridiculous that they never quite got it. They were still playing by the rules of power politics when Jesus had changed all the rules when they weren’t paying attention.

So a couple of the lads – they were known as the Zebedee boys – got together with their mom and requested a private audience with Jesus. He knew something was up so he thought that he should just get this over with.

“What do you want?” he asked this little Zebedee delegation. And Mama Zebedee did the talking and went right to the point: “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your left and one at your right, in your kingdom.”

Old habits die hard. These guys were already in the inner circle. They were amongst the first to join the movement, they got to be with Jesus at special moments, so they figured that they had earned their place, they were entitled to a seat at the cabinet table, places in the higher echelons of the Jesus administration.

“You guys think you can drink with me?” Jesus asked. “You think that the bitter cocktail that is being brewed for me is something that you can throw back?”

“Sure, Jesus, we can drink with the best of them.”

“Well you will drink my cup,” Jesus replied, “but its not for me to determine who will be at the right and the left of me at that enthronement party.”

Now, of course this caused some controversy with the other members of the team. “Who are the Zebedee boys to get the jump on us for the plum appointments in the new administration?”

So Jesus takes them aside and says,

“Listen, if you want to play politics that apes the empire, then that’s your business, but that’s not what we’re up to in this campaign. We know that old politics is a way of death and a path of injustice. We’re up to something radically new here.

The politics of the inner circle, of entitlement, of power, of prestige, of hierarchy, of grandiosity, of lording over others – that is the normal way in which politics gets played out. But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse.

Don’t you get it? This isn’t the politics of greatness, but the politics of being servants. Public servants, servants of the most vulnerable, servants of a new vision, a new politics, a kingdom that turns everything on its head.

We aren’t in this campaign to come in first, but to come in last.

This isn’t about getting ahead, this isn’t about gaining power, this isn’t about becoming elite leaders. No this is about becoming slaves, this is about embracing the lowest of our society, this is about taking on the identity of those who have no power, no place, no entitlement.

If you want to be in this campaign, if you want to follow me and the way of my kingdom, then you’ve got to stop playing by the old rules. We must no longer be subject to the politics of the empire because we are slaves of the kingdom!”

They just kind of looked at Jesus, thinking that this really was a strange way to run a political campaign.

And then they hit the campaign trail again. The crowds were everywhere and the team was trying to keep on schedule when all of a sudden they heard these two voices crying out as loud as they could,

“Have mercy on us, Lord, son of David!”

Two blind beggars sitting on the side of the road shouting,
“Have mercy on us, Lord, son of David!”

“Shut up,” the people hissed.

“Have mercy on us, Lord, son of David.”

Jesus stopped in his tracks. This was a call that was at the heart of his campaign. A call for mercy.

He approached these two men and asked them the question that he had asked the Zebedee boys, but with a difference: Not a resigned, “What do you want?,” but “what do you want me to do for you?” He asked a question that recognized the desperation of their cry, a question that recognized that legitimacy of their complaint.

“What do you want me to do for you?,” he asked.

No one had ever asked these two desperate beggars that question. While sometimes they had someone swear at them for being a drain on society and on occasion a kind word and a few coins, no one had ever asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?”

They were dumbfounded for a moment. They didn’t quite know what to say.

They usually asked if anyone had some spare change. But this question seemd to go deeper than spare change. This question seemed to offer real change, radical change, transformative change.

“What do we want you to do for us? What do we really want, more than anything else? We want to see, Lord. Let our eyes be opened.”

Those at the centre seek power. Those on the margins call out for mercy.

Those of the inner circle operate on presumption. Those on the margins must be persistent.

Those close to power imitate the empire’s system of domination. Those who are powerless know better than to hope for help from the empire.

Those with power strategize on how to get more power. Those without power revert to desperate tactics like shouting in the street to have their lament heard.

Those at the centre want status and control, but remain blind to their self-serving ideology. Those on the side of the road want to see, and once they see, they follow.

And so the ambition of the inner circle boys meet the compassion of the servant King.

The beggars are healed and their eyes are open. And they become disciples, they join the campaign, following Jesus, eyes wide open, to Jerusalem, to the cross, to a place where two thieves hang, one on the right, the other on the left of Jesus. And above his head was a sign that said, “King of the Jews.”

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

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