A New Politic

There was another presidential debate last night, and there’s another big primary Tuesday. Another round of verbal jabs. Suspicion. Mudslinging. Smears. Schadenfreude. Our nation isn’t just divided; it’s shattered; splintered into tiny shards of voting blocks and interest groups. And the more I hear candidates shout at one another, the more I think they’re all missing the point.  

This morning, I read Matthew 9 and was reminded of similar divides among Jesus’ first followers. In Matthew 9, Jesus calls a tax collector named Matthew to be a member of his leadership team. Matthew became one of the 12 apostles to whom was entrusted the global mission of God on Earth. 

These men Jesus called were Jews living under Roman occupation. They had lost their land and their preferred form of government. They were living in an unholy kingdom where the emperor was worshipped like God, and taxes were levied to pay for abominations. And two of the men Jesus called were approaching that occupation in radically different ways.  

Matthew had settled into the occupied way of life and adopted some of the Roman customs. He worked for the government, collected taxes from his fellow Jews that would be used to pay for Roman atrocities. His fellow Jews called him a syncretist, or traitor, or apostate.  

But another of the 12 was called “Simon the Zealot.” In contrast with Matthew, Simon was fomenting rebellion. The term “zealot” used to describe him in Luke, is not just a descriptor of his devotion. It was a political allegiance. Zealots were part of a group who believed in violent overthrow of Roman oppression. They staged revolts. Plotted insurrections. Carried swords.  

So Jesus’ ministry team included Matthew who supported onerous taxes, and Simon who clung to his weapons and hatred of government. Sound familiar?  

Jesus could have called 12 zealots to build his church, but he didn’t. He could have called 12 syncretists, but he didn’t. Jesus called these two men from the extreme ends of the political spectrum to serve as equals; teammates; brothers.   

What does that tell us about the kingdom of heaven? I think it tells us something about the radical way of Jesus. In answer to Jesus’ call, Matthew left his tax booth, Simon left his insurrection, and both began a new way of life.  

The kingdom of God is not a better version of our little kingdoms. The kingdom of God is not what we could accomplish without opposition from the other party. I’m not talking about Centrist Jesus, a gospel of compromise. I’m talking about an entirely new way. A commitment to radical humility that eschews power grabs from both sides of the aisle. A refusal to bicker over the impotent fiefdoms of nations in order to serve the eternal kingdom of God.  

Jesus was always calling people to leave things behind — to drop the nets of our old allegiances and embrace a new way. To whatever extent we have not left behind our political loves and cultural hate, we have not joined the kingdom movement that transcends them.