Monday, September 17, 2007

How Was Jesus 'Political'?

OHMSI Inaugural Dialogue:
“Was Jesus Political?” A New Testament Perspective
By Dr Lim Kar Yong
Lecturer in New Testament Studies
Seminari Theoloji Malaysia

I recall reading an influential evangelical pastor affirming that the church should not engage in political action. For this pastor, the mission, energy and investment of the church is not to clean up the evils of society but to evangelise society. Unfortunately, this also characterises the position of the majority in our own shores. It is unfortunate that when the studies of Jesus are carried out within the confessional setting in the church, it is often accomplished though our theological framework. “Standard” understanding of Jesus is that he is the Son of God who died on the cross for the salvation of humanity. It is also often assumed that the Gospels and other scriptural writings are solely religious in nature. While this theological approach to the study of Jesus is no doubt true to our orthodox confession, this approach regrettably presents a one-sided perspective of Jesus – one that I am tempted to describe as a domestication of a “spiritual Jesus.” It is a Jesus that is, in the words of Scot McKnight, “described exclusively…in the category of a spiritual master, (and) as one who was primarily concerned with the inner religious life and its disciplines for the individual.”

This morning, I hope to reconsider our understanding of Jesus. Drawing from the contribution of the Historical Jesus research and the recent rise in the interest of social-scientific approach to the New Testament, we hope to reflect on this question, “Was Jesus political?” Or, in other words, is there a place in our faith for a “political” Jesus instead of merely a “spiritual” Jesus?

Before we proceed, perhaps it is good to clarify what I mean by the term, “politics.” In antiquity, according to Aristotle, politics is understood in the broad sense in which the objective is to realise the idea of a good life of a community within a city. On the other hand, politics can also be understood in the narrow sense as an art of gaining and maintaining power. I prefer to engage my reflection on the political Jesus in the broad sense. I use political to mean relating to public, state, or civil affairs. As such by “political” I do not mean that Jesus was thinking in terms of forming political parties or launching a revolt against Rome or Jerusalem. By “political” I propose to reconsider the historical Jesus as someone who has a mission to the nation of Israel in calling her to repentance in light of the coming judgment of God.

So the two questions I would like to consider are:

1) How much awareness does Jesus exhibit in his self-understanding of his mission to Israel as being political?

2) How would the multitudes perceive Jesus to be political through his teachings and activities?

More Updates:
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Lim Kar Yong, Part II and Part III
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Keropok Lekor

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