Tag Archives: Presidential Election

Flip, Flop, Fib, and Fake

From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”
John 19:12 (NRSV)

Last night Wendy and I watched the end of the Presidential debate as we prepared for bed. It gave both of us a good laugh to watch seemingly intelligent people flip, flop, fib, and forestall. Amazing how so many people can evade so many direct questions. It does not matter what side of the political spectrum you lean. The truth is that both sides of the political spectrum will argue whatever is expedient to their momentary political need, even if it is 180 degrees from where they stood months or years ago when the political situation was reversed.

This is all fresh in my mind this morning as I read the chapter of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. Make no mistake. The entire series of kangaroo court trials that Jesus went through were political in nature. Jesus threatened the power of the Jewish religious leaders and their economic cash cow in the Jerusalem temple. The trials started at the home of Annas who was the father-in-law of the current High Priest, Caiaphas. There were two reasons for this private questioning. First, Annas was the power behind the throne. He was the Godfather, and Caiaphas was his puppet. Second, Caiaphas was quickly and dutifully trying to assemble a quorum of their tribunal body, the Sanhedrin, to render verdict on Jesus. Of course, this was all done in the middle of the night which was against their laws, but in Watergate like fashion they found it politically expedient to fudge those laws because they wanted this to be done quickly and out of the public eye. Caiaphas was, no doubt, stacking the quorum with those who leaned against Jesus politically.

The leaders had another problem. They wanted Jesus put to death, but they had no authority to do it under Roman rule. The Roman Empire was the occupying force in Palestine. They were the ultimate authority and Pilate, as the Roman Governor, was the only man who could legally give the order to execute Jesus. So, the Jewish leaders had two choices. One was to have Jesus assassinated, which risked huge social and political backlash given Jesus’ popularity. The other was to convince Pilate to crucify Jesus under Roman law. The problem with that was there was nothing Jesus had done that really mattered to the Romans.

Now the Jews hated the Romans the way any people hate any occupying force. The French and Dutch hated the Nazis when they were the occupying force in World War II. The Ukrainians hate the Russians right now. So, what is fascinating in today’s chapter is to watch the political machination the Jewish leaders make to the Roman Governor.

First, make the appeal and hopefully Pilate’s in a good mood and will do what we ask. “If he weren’t a criminal, we wouldn’t have brought him to you.” You can trust us, Pilate. Jesus is a bad guy. Just give the order.

But, after questioning, Pilate finds no reason to execute Jesus.

Next tactic, apply social pressure. Whip up the mob to convince Pilate that executing Jesus is the expedient thing to do. It was still early, remember, and the leaders had already been working for hours to assemble a sympathetic crowd of Jesus’ enemies. Make a big public demonstration. Make it loud. Chant. Threaten social unrest. The crowd begins to chant and shout for Jesus’ execution.

Pilate is scratching his head. This makes no sense, but the pressure  is enough to prompt further questioning. He questions Jesus and still finds no reason to have him crucified. Pilate tries to give Jesus back to the Jewish leaders and give them permission to crucify the Nazarene themselves.

The Jewish leaders, however, know that it would be political suicide to kill Jesus themselves. Their poll numbers would plummet. The ignorant masses would turn against them. They had to have their enemy, Pilate, give the order. Pilate questions Jesus again. The Roman Governor recognizes that he is caught in a political trap. Jesus does not deserve death, but the leaders of the opposition could make his life hell if he doesn’t do what they want. Once again he pleads for Jesus release.

The Jewish leaders sense Pilate’s hesitation and fear things are going against them, so they make the argument “Jesus claimed to be King, so that is treason to the Roman Emperor.” This is ridiculous. The Jewish leaders didn’t care what Caesar thought or about treason against Rome. They’ve suddenly become Roman patriots? This is pure political expediency and it’s cunning. By making this accusation they are telling Pilate that they could appeal to Caesar and tell the Emperor that Pilate ignored a threat to Rome. When Pilate still seems unconvinced, the Jewish leaders go all in and pledge loyalty to their enemy: “We have no king but the emperor.

Pilate was politically trapped and he knew it. He needed to keep the peace in Palestine at all costs and, reluctantly, he is compelled to make Jesus the sacrificial lamb to keep that peace.

Today I’m thinking about politics and elections and appointments and history. Jesus told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world, and as a follower of Jesus I find myself constantly struggling with tension between two kingdoms. God both tells me to be mindful of, and obedient in, my citizenship in His kingdom and also my citizenship to the rulers and authorities I find myself under in this world. I look at the Presidential candidates across the entire ideological spectrum and perceive the entire lot are flippers, floppers, fibbers, and ego driven fakers.

God, give me wisdom, and please…have mercy on us.

 

Smoke Filled Back Rooms of Jerusalem

The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering such things about [Jesus], and the chief priests and Pharisees sent temple police to arrest him.
John 7:32 (NRSV)

It has been fascinating for me to read John’s biography of Jesus during the current presidential election. The election is all about popularity, sound bytes, what this person said about that person, what that person thinks about this person, who came to this event, and who sat out of that event. It’s a whole lot of zany humanity, and that is exactly what is happening in today’s chapter.

After the post shore-lunch debacle [see yesterday’s post], Jesus has seemingly chosen to call an end to his whistle-stop miracle tour in fly-over country. There is conflict among his team and fighting among his own family. Jesus organization seems to be fractured from infighting. And now, there’s a big event looming in the Capitol city of Jerusalem. Everyone is going to be there. His family sarcastically rides Jesus that if He wants to be Mr. Big then He has to go to the festival. Jesus chooses out, the abruptly decides to make a surprise appearance.

In the Capitol of Jerusalem, the political atmosphere is tense. Political polls about Jesus are mixed but popularity has swung so much His way that the party establishment are running scared. They begin a smear campaign. They put out sound bytes announcing that there is no way Jesus can be the Messiah on legal grounds because Jesus hails from the Galilee district and the Law clearly says that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem. Plus, Jesus performing miracles on the Sabbath day of rest is at the very least a misdemeanor if you’re going to split legal hairs. In a “smoke-filled back room” the  party officials and insiders decide to have Jesus arrested and muscle the young upstart into line.

Jesus, meanwhile, is drawing huge crowds. His message is as confusing as ever. He’s talking like he’s been smoking one of those Turkish hookahs. “My teaching is not mine, but the One who sent me” (Hold on. What does that mean? Who’s Jesus working for? Is Jesus starting a Third Party?) “I’m going where you won’t see me” (Is he leaving? Is he getting out of the race?).   “I come from the Father” (Yeah, in Nazareth.). “You don’t know the Father, but I know Him.” (Wait a minute. Yes I do. Joe the Carpenter. Fixed a table for me once).

Despite the confusing rhetoric, Jesus is mesmerizing. He is unlike anything anyone has ever seen. No one talks like this. No one does the things Jesus does. It’s so compelling that even the Capitol police sent to arrest Jesus decide to disobey orders and face the reprimand they know they’ll get from party officials.

The political situation is heating up and everyone is asking two questions:

  1. “Who is Jesus?”
  2. “What do we do with Him?”

And, in retrospect, that seems to have been Jesus’ intention all along. Everyone needs to answer those two questions.

 

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Featured image from darthdowney via Flickr

Caucuses, Circuses, and the Crowd

But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to [the crowd], because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
John 2:24-25 (NRSV)

I must admit that Wendy and I are enjoying the blissful serenity of our evenings now that the Iowa Caucuses are over. For the past few months we have been accosted nightly by political ads, surveys and invitations to town hall meetings.  The media circus combined with the daily candidate rallies get a little old after a while.

It is, I admit, fascinating to watch the side-show which is our presidential election process. Candidates mug for the press and try to create media buzz. Depending on the poll of the hour, the candidates might flip on this issue and flop on that latest trending topic. Every one of them is looking for an edge to swing the crowds to their camp on caucus night.

Perhaps the fresh memory of such things are what caused the verses above to leap of the page at me this morning. John relates two distinct stories from the vast reservoir of stories he could have drawn upon. In the first story, Jesus is reluctant to perform a miracle doing so only at the passive aggressive insistence of His mother. In the second story, Jesus creates a scene at the temple which was sure to make headlines and create buzz. John is careful to note two things about this noteworthy event. First, he makes clear that Jesus’ motivation was sincere zealousness, born out of the corruption and racketeering Jesus witnessed in what was supposed to be a place of holiness. Second, Jesus was not trying to start a political movement or swing the crowd to caucus for Him. He didn’t trust the crowd.

This morning I am reminded of a few specific moments along my life journey. I have felt surges of popularity (albeit relatively small) and I have felt the sting of others turning their backs on me. The experiences are enough to teach me that trying to consistently win the approval of the crowd is a maddening, and largely vain, pursuit. Though, one simply needs to follow the travails of our presidential candidates for a few weeks to see the truth of it. I’m glad that Jesus was more interested in doing what was right than in doing what was popular with the crowd. That’s the example I continuously endeavor to follow.

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I Have a Dream: The Love Party

Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Romans 13:10 (NIV)

For those of you reading this who live outside of the state of Iowa, please understand that our entire state population is near the point of going postal. Every local ad on television and radio is a political ad for President or a PAC ad taking shots at this or that candidate. Our phones ring countless times a day. We are surveyed to death or treated to recorded messages from the candidates. The Iowa caucuses are this week and we are ready for them to be over.

It’s impossible to escape the political conversation in Iowa every four years in January. My friends and acquaintances are representative of the entire spectrum of political ideology from staunch conservatives to progressive liberals. The one thing that I hear everyone along the ideological continuum agreeing on is that 1) not one of the candidates is particularly great and 2) our election process and political system is in need of reform.

I have been day dreaming of late. It’s a pipe dream, really. I’ve been dreaming of a political party called the Love Party. The Love Party would operate under the umbrella of the law of love. Political ads of the Love Party would never be negative or attack others. Love Party candidates would seek to unite and not divide. Our platform would seek good for subsequent generations and not quick profit for ourselves with no thought of the long term consequences. We would seek our citizens genuine welfare; Not giving free handouts and subsidies in exchange for votes (into perpetuity) but requiring that those who receive assistance, in turn, must assist themselves and their community. Love Party candidates would model self imposed term limits, refusing to lord over others and line their personal fortunes and rigging rules for their own benefit.

Today, I’m dreaming. But, it’s a good dream on which to start a Monday. There may never be a national Love Party, but maybe I can be a Party of one. This is America. I am free to be the Love Party.

 

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