An election special
‘How could they possibly have elected an imbecile like Donald Trump to be President? Are they for real?’
‘How can these blind idiots not see that the liberal elite have a stranglehold on our politics and have ruined our country? We need an outsider like Trump to sort things out.’
It is remarkable how many voices on either side of the political divide in the US have despised each other.
Meanwhile, we have our own divide over Brexit. I notice that there are voices describing those who voted to leave as ‘old people who are ruining the country and depriving our young of opportunities’ and equally those who voted to stay being characterised as ‘small minded wimps who lack the courage to break free from the chains of European bureaucracy as it stifles democracy and innovation.’
What strikes me is the way voices on both sides these arguments have assumed that ‘we are right’ and those who differ from us are, in some way ‘imbeciles to be despised.’ In other words: we are the enlightened elite and those who disagree are deserving, not of our reasoned argument, but of our loathing
This is not to deny the importance of political debate, but rather to spot how the debate has been less about politics, less about the merits of various political positions and increasingly about despising people who hold different political opinions. There is a great deal of ‘playing the man rather than the ball’! So energy is spent, not debating politics or policies, but deriding opponents.
This reveals a great deal, I think, about our default setting whereby we like to feel superior to other people. It is deeply unpleasant, and yet, if we are honest enough, exposes something deep within us that needs to be dealt with.
Hold that thought, and we will circle back to it shortly. Meanwhile I want to take a detour through the Gospel presentation of the Incarnation.
One of the striking features of the genealogy found in Matthew chapter 1 is the inclusion of some unsavoury “skeletons in the cupboard” among the ancestors of Jesus. Genealogies in those days functioned in the way that CV’s in job applications do today. They were often meant to portray the subject in the best possible light. When you put together your CV for a job application you will go out of your way to emphasise the positive. We will choose to omit parts of our employment history that may not show us in the best light, focussing instead on making ourselves look good.
When Matthew researched, and then assembled, the genealogy of Jesus he broke all those rules. He includes clear references to moral outsiders - Tamar brings to mind incest; Rahab was a prostitute; King David is mentioned which may seem an opportunity to shout ‘hurray - a king’ but then we are told that he fathered Solomon by another man’s wife (Uriah). Matthew doesn’t even mention Bathsheba’s name, only that she was married to someone else when David was sleeping with her. Matthew is not shy of mentioning those who were moral failures in Jesus’ ancestry.
More than that, there were many people who were racially impure. Culturally and racially they were outsiders. The Law of Moses excluded such people from the presence of God, and yet Matthew openly lists them as ancestors of Jesus.
First of all, this tells us that people who are excluded by culture, or excluded by ‘respectable’ society, or even excluded by the law of God as it taught principles of holiness to the people of old, can nonetheless be brought into the family of Jesus. What matters is not your past, but whether you have repented and have believed in Jesus. Our past can then be bathed in His pardoning grace and we can be given strength to live changed and changing lives in the present, with hope for the future.
Secondly, it is worth pondering how, in ancient times, there was a concept of ‘ceremonial uncleanness.’ If you wanted to stay holy, or good, then you had to avoid contact with the unholy. Unholiness was contagious and so you had to avoid it. Jesus turns that around. His holiness and goodness can’t be contaminated by contact with us. Rather His holiness infects and inoculates us. So if we come to believe in Him, no matter our past moral failures, then He will wash us white as snow.
Let me circle back to present day politics. With our modern western mindset we can easily dismiss Old Testament ideas of ceremonial cleanness as primitive, and feign shock at the way outsiders were rejected. But in our modern society we can be terrific snobs and elitists. People are judged by where they stay, the education they have, the jobs they do…. those whose political views are different from ours are nut-cases who are bent on ruining our livelihoods and damaging our pensions. We see them as unclean, beyond the pale, whilst we are (of course) pure and enlightened and reasonable.
The values of Jesus are radically different. He does not judge people according to their race or class or political views. These things need to be left behind when we become part of his family.
This is not to say that we won’t have strong views on the great political issues of the day. We may well be deeply disturbed/ hugely encouraged by the new American president. We may be appalled/excited at Brexit, but what we don’t do is despise others on the basis of those views. In the family of Jesus we have a different set of values.
Psalm 133 says:
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
life for evermore
The unity of God’s people brings opposites together, symbolised by the great Mount Hermon in the north and the small hill of Zion in the south. For Hermon’s dew to fall on Zion would be miraculous - as is the supernatural bond that binds the diverse people of God together in the Lord. The unity He gifts to us, and the bonds of love He creates between us, are like the fragrant and precious oil of the ancient world, making us forget those things that might otherwise lead us to reject one another.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3)