The Politics of Jesus
ONE From the Red Sea to the Jordan River: The Roots of Jesus' Political Consciousness "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill." Matthew 5:17...
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ONE From the Red Sea to the Jordan River: The Roots of Jesus' Political Consciousness "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill." Matthew 5:17 If Jesus was a political revolutionary, what were the political issues and conditions of the world of his birth that he was responding to and that he sought so fervently to change? To fully appreciate the politics of Jesus we must begin with the most basic factor in his worldview and social identity: his Jewishness. We will briefly survey the major historical moments in the development of the religion of Jesus and note how the influence of each is reflected in his message and ministry. In other words, we must begin with an understanding of the legacy of the Judaism into which Jesus was born and its influence on his life and his every pronouncement. *** Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew. Not only was Jesus a Jew, but he was an observant Jew who never disavowed his Jewishness. We see this in his consistent observance of Jewish customs and holy days, in his frequent references to Moses, and in his acceptance of the Torah as holy writ. All of Jesus' major teachings either were consistent with the tenets of traditional Judaism or were expansions or elaborations of it, as in Matthew 5:17-48, in which Jesus intensifies the moral ethics of Judaism with the refrain "you have heard it said . . . butIsay . . ."* However, the major implication of Jesus' Jewishness for our understanding of the political setting of his life and ministry goes beyond the liturgical and doctrinal aspects of Judaism. Rather, it lies in one fact in particular: that the root event from which the foundational meaning of Judaism and the entire Judeo-Christian faith tradition flows is a political event--the liberation event that was the Exodus. The Exodus The Bible begins with the Book of Genesis, which includes the stories of increasingly faithful individuals like Joseph, Abraham, and Lot. The next book, Exodus, recounts the struggle of the Hebrew people to escape from their painful bondage under Pharaoh, the Egyptian ruler. With the Hebrews' exit from Egypt, the emphasis of the Bible turns from individual deliverance to collective deliverance. It is in this sense that the Exodus event is a political event: it is about the collective deliverance of a subjugated class of people from political oppression and economic exploitation. The political nature of the Exodus is epitomized in Exodus 3:7-8, which narrates God's liberating response to the cries of the oppressed: "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them." What we are told here is that it was not the Hebrews' religious sensibilities, nor was it their worship pieties, that accounted for God's intervention in their desperate predicament. Rather, according to God's own testimony, it was their political plight. In fact, the book of Exodus tells us that when it came to worshiping God, the Hebrews were not particularly commendable. As a group, they seem not even to have been monotheistic; that is, they seem not to have fully accepted belief in one God alone. Apparently they were what we call henotheistic, which means that even if they did worship only one God, they still acknowledged the existence of other deities. This is reflected in the first commandment, in which the Hebrews are specifically commanded to worship no other gods, a commandment that would have been meaningless if they had already believed in the existence of only one God. Thus, the liberating action of God in the Exodus was not in response to the worship pieties of the Hebrews. Itwas to their political plight. The term "Hebrews" itself confirms this, i
OBERY HENDRICKS, Jr., is Professor of Biblical Interpretation at the New York Theological Seminary and an Ordained Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He has served as a professor at Drew University and as visiting scholar at Princeton Theological Seminary. He lives in New York City.
From Elaine Pagels's "Beyond Belief" to Jim Wallis's "God's Politics", investigations into the relationship between the historical foundations of Christianity and the role of religion in today's world have risen to the top of bestseller lists. Obery Hendricks, Jr., who was Pagels's first graduate student at Princeton University, adds an important new voice to the ongoing discussion in THE POLITICS OF JESUS. Filled with riveting, original insights, it confirms Cornel West's declaration that "Obery Hendricks is not just on the cutting edge, he's the knife." ^Focusing on a powerful but little-examined aspect of the Gospels, Hendricks portrays Jesus as a political revolutionary whose teachings are meant to lead the way to freedom from the tyranny of principalities and unjust rulers in high--and low--places. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus employs various tactics to address the social, economic, and political conditions of his day and exposes the terrible effects of oppression and poverty
Obery M. Hendricks, Jr. is one of today's most provocative and innovative commentators on the intersection of religion, politics and social policy. A former Wall St. investment executive and past president of Payne Theological Seminary (the oldest African American theology seminary in the U.S.) he is currently Professor of Biblical Interpretation at NY Theological Seminary and Visiting Scholar in Religion and African American Studies at Columbia. His books include The Politics of Jesus (Doubleday), and a novel, Living Water (HarperCollins).