'Jesus, Community, and Politics'

Jesus spent most of his time with those on the edge of society but not exclusively so. In this article Keith Hebden looks at how Jesus was both an agitator for change and a community organiser working across the spectrum of society to bring people in line with his vision of God's peace and justice. Does this provide a model for social engagement? 

Practical Action

In the gospels we have a Jesus who, working for a more just system for all, engaged with a whole continuum of people in different ways. At one end of the spectrum are the disciples and crowds of ordinary people; then there are the professional classes who have much more invested in the present system then poorer people; finally the client rulers: who have the most vested in however the current systems work.

Reality is always more complicated and fluid than any continuum can handle. Ordering things as above helps us understand that different people have different needs and start from different places. In order to effect real change it is necessary both to engage people (including ourselves) wherever they are in the spectrum and help them move to larger and more irresistible alliances for change.

The Disciples and Crowds

We begin with Jesus’ natural allies: the crowds and disciples. The disciples have made a serious commitment in relation to Jesus personally and to his vision as they see it worked out. Jesus’ work with a core group of activists focused around creating an intentional community sharing some form of common purse as well as common ideals. Many of them experienced what it was like to be at the sharp end of an unjust system and so his talk of day labouring, debt, and violence painted a picture of a world they knew.

One of the most radical forms of intervention Jesus used was to heal people on the Sabbath: the holy day of rest. In order for a political elite to maintain social control over the crowds, there must be a class of people who are outcasts. These are the people that the crowds fear to associate with and dread as signs of their own future if they don’t work hard, pay their taxes, and keep their noses clean. By touching and healing the outcasts Jesus reintroduces them to the crowd, removing fear of them with love.

The Professional Classes

Turning to the professional classes, this category of people is divided into two: those who were sympathetic to Jesus’ vision and values and those who were suspicion or antagonistic to the cause. Many of these would have seen themselves as ‘of the people’ as they were certainly not ‘rulers’ nonetheless they held particular skills or privileges which set them apart. With the antagonistic group, public debate and confrontation were the two methods initiated by both Jesus and by his enemies. But for the sympathetic professionals, private conversations were necessary.

Among those who were the sympathetic elite, one would count a Roman centurion with a sick servant, at least three Pharisees called Simon, Nicodemus and Joseph, and a synagogue leader whose daughter had died and a rich young ruler. With the professional classes Jesus needed to draw a balance between challenging them in confidence while not colluding with them in private and by creating social situations where the elite were brought face-to-face with those they would never normally associate he gave the poor their own platform.

Rulers

We come to a final social grouping: the client rulers. These are represented by kings’ stewards, tax collectors, temple priests, client kings of national descent but imperial loyalty, and of course Pontius Pilate the Roman procurator of Jerusalem. These people are the social network represented by palace and temple as the physical centres of a domination system.

So it is to the temple that Jesus must eventually go, in order to expose and confront the powers at their spiritual heart. There are many accounts of Jesus challenging the powers but this event – which is the climax of Jesus’ ministry, or its inauguration depending on which version you read – stands out in its explicit and aggressive challenge to power.

Mark (Mark 11:16–19) frames this event in prayer-warfare. Before they go to the temple Jesus and his disciples curse the fig tree, a symbol of national wellbeing, for not producing fruit. On returning from the direct action they discover that the tree has indeed withered.

The way the protest event is sandwiched between this cursing and denouncing of the spirit of the temple, that is the fig tree, shows how integral prayer and action are to one another in speaking out against injustice. But what it also shows is that Jesus and his disciples are willing to expose their political convictions so publicly as to threaten the existence of their movement in order to bring about a more universal change of perception and put pressure on the elite.

Systems under Pressure

In any challenge to the powers a key task is identifying ‘who’s who’. There are those with the least power who need to come alive to the way the powers rule their lives; those with some power and the beginnings of awareness but no tools or organization with which to resist. Finally there are the powerful, some of whom will have uneasiness about the roles they find themselves in and may be open to change. Identify these people – as much as possible by name – and find together the best way to work with them in order to put pressure on them to shift to the place of ally or to stand down from their position of facilitating injustices.

There is always fluidity and complexity in this but creating a simple matrix from which to begin to act is helpful to any program for change. This was Jesus’ approach and it is why he used parables that described real-life people and their power relationships in order to get everyone to work this out for him or herself.

Keith Hebden is a parish priest and Seeking Justice deanery adviser in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire where he chairs the Diocesan Greener Churches Group. He teaches and writes on practical theology and spirituality. His latest book, Seeking Justice: The radical compassion of Jesus plots experiments in faith based community organising and direct action. Some of his workshop material and other resources can be found at Compassionistas. He’s married to Sophie Hebden, a freelance science writer and they have two daughters. 

1 reaction Share

The "Facts" behind Troubled Families

“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life……..nothing else will ever be of any service to them…..Stick to Facts, Sir!”

These are the opening sentences of the Charles Dickens’ novel ‘Hard Times’ - a novel depicting the savagery and squalor of the Victorian town ‘Coketown’. He condemned the treatment of the ‘poor’ in not only their economic situation, but also in the prevailing social attitudes towards ‘the poor’. This social category –the poor’ and their ‘home’ - ‘poverty’ (after all, that’s where they live!), are still the subject of much argument and discussion as to ‘who they actually are and what they actually do!

Read more
1 reaction Share

Independence Yes or No?

On September 18th there will be a vote on Scotland becoming independent and leaving the UK.  Many claims have been for and against the merits of independence for Scotland, and much of the debate has been around the question of social justice.

Read more
4 reactions Share

Gamserve

For his entire adult life, until 2005, Ian Bartlett lived on the wrong side of the law, carrying out criminal activities to support his addiction.  He wasn’t addicted to drugs or alcohol, he was addicted to gambling and that addiction destroyed his personal life time and time again.  Things appeared to be getting better when he came to Faith in 2010 and as baptised but very quickly he returned to his addiction and this time instead of turning to crime he turned to credit, and was soon struggling to climb out of his financial pit.

Read more
Add your reaction Share

A Westminster Diary

I was very happy when I was able to secure an intern position in the office of Stephen Timms who is a Labour MP for the constituency of East Ham (in London), he is the shadow Minister for Employment. I was informed on my first day that the office is famous across Westminster and those working for Stephen are affectionately referred to as ‘Team Timms’.

Read more
Add your reaction Share

Reflections on post-liberalism and post liberal politics

‘Modernity failed our deepest human needs, and comprehensively fouled our physical and spiritual environment in the process; yet the liberalism of modernity, and those other modernists who reacted against it, seem to have exhausted most of what can be said and achieved. There is a sense now of a lack of vision, of aftermath, of epilogue’.[1]

When asked what he thought about the French Revolution Mao is reputed to have said ‘it is too early to judge’. My sense with ‘post-liberalism’ is much of it is too early to judge.  However, we have more than sufficient grounds to explore this concept and ponder the potential for a post-liberal politics.

Read more
1 reaction Share

Coalitions of Conscience

By Dr. Graham Giles MBE, LCID Executive Committee

Labour Affiliates can punch above their weight on matters of moral responsibility by standing together, not least on the future aid budget.   Christians on the Left are providing resources to help local church groups up and down the country to become more active in local and national politics.  

Read more
Add your reaction Share

Douglas Alexander on Freedom of Religion

On Tuesday night, Christians on the Left held a joint meeting with the APPG on International Freedom of Religion and Belief to discuss Article 18.  At that meeting Douglas Alexander, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, gave a speech. The following is the text of that speech.

Read more
1 reaction Share

Ukip and asking the wrong question

Fellow clergy will empathise that it is always on the day off that the ‘interesting’ information reaches you.  For me, that dose of said information came when I picked up the junk mail off the mat to find a UKIP flier.  As I went to deliver it to recycling I took a cursory glance to see if I could send it back at cost to the party.  And that is when I saw the face of a churchgoer from one of my congregations.

Two weeks later, we got the news that UKIP had scored a healthy second in the local election.  Around the country I watched UKIP rack up council seats in a lot of areas like mine.  Rotherham had a gain of nine seats, and there were large swathes of Essex which have a purple hue.

Read more
Add your reaction Share

The rejection elections

It looks like UK politics is on the precipice of something new.  The recent round of European elections has been aptly dubbed the 'rejection elections'.  The UK political landscape looks bland, it looks desperate, to many it offers little vision.  UKIP superficially appears to offer a vision of taking control back to the people.  They believe they know what's wrong, offering a manifesto along the lines of 'foreigners have come into our country and taken away our jobs and we're tired of listening to the EU telling us what to do'.  Their rhetoric doesn't take us far beyond this.  Why have they taken the lead position in an important national election?

Read more
Add your reaction Share

← Previous  1  2    12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  Next →