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    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
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Sunday
Dec132015

The Cross of Christ and the Politics of Jesus

As a Christian disciple, how have you understood the Biblical injunction to 'take up your cross' and follow Jesus?

I think that contemporary Christians have misunderstood the intention of Jesus' command to His disciples.

Somehow we have forgotten that the social and historical context in which Matthew and his community where when he chose to include the saying of Jesus in his Gospel. Listen to Jesus words again: Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matt 16.24). What did Jesus mean, and why did Matthew include this saying?

Well, Matthew is addressing a minority group, Jews who believed that Jesus is the promised Messiah. This had social, economic and political consequences for them. They were excluded from the political protection given to the Jews by their Roman occupiers. It meant that they were excluded from the social acceptance and protection of the Jewish community. It also meant that they were excluded from the economic community that sustained the Jewish community.

Somehow we have forgotten that context and collapsed the meaning of this text into a contemporary form of psychological suffering (illness, stress, relationship challenges etc.) This kind of understanding of 'taking up your cross' tends to privatize and individualize the Christian faith. It makes Christianity very small. Jesus' understanding of His power and the consequences of his gracious, transforming and loving reign is much more powerful. It has radical public consequences. It changes the way in which we live, the way in which we treat people and creation. It has a very different historical intention.

This kind of faith is not merely a form of 'moralistic therapeutic Deism' (as the American sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist termed Christian belief among contemporary teenagers in America). A friend of mine, Peter Storey, once described the contemporary view of Jesus as a mix between a personal therapist and a stock broker - in other words, we believe that God only wants to make us happy and wealthy.  This is not the Jesus that we encounter in the Bible. 

The eschatological intention of the Christian faith is not just happy individuals - it is a world that is radically transformed. It aims for political systems that manage power for the common good. It has economic systems that bring blessing for all persons. It works for the good of all humanity and all creation.

The following quote from John Howard Yoder is a very clear expression of the Cross of Christ and the Politics of Jesus:

The believer's cross is no longer any and every kind of suffering, sickness, or tension, the bearing of which is demanded. The believer's cross must be, like his Lord's, the price of his social nonconformity. It is not, like sickness or catastrophe, an inexplicable, unpredictable suffering; it is the end of the path freely chosen after counting the cost. It is not, like Luther's or Thomas Muntzer's or Zinzendorf's or Kierkegaard's cross, an inward wrestling of the sensitive soul with self and sin; it is the social reality of representing in an unwilling world the Order to come.
― John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster.

Living in this way has radical public consequences. It changes how we spend our money, who we vote for, what work we do, what we own, what we eat, how we relate to one another - of course it also changes how we are Church. I think the love of Jesus reaches all of the places, and so many more. And if I am to bear the name of the loving Lord, I should seek to find ways to be an expression of His transforming and gracious love wherever I am, and in whatever ways I can.

I would love to hear your thoughts!

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