Jesus’ ministry took place during a time of great socio-political turmoil. Rome occupied Palestine and the local rulers were proud, self-aggrandizing, rash and conflicted people. Other local rulers were completely misled, thinking they could force changes on a nation from the outside, without altering the hearts of the people. Some things never change.
Chapters six and seven of the gospel of Mark reveal powerful truths to us. In the midst of the social and political madness of his day, common people flocked to Jesus in very large numbers and found refuge in him. It is interesting that the very same miracles produced two very different reactions: the religious leaders wanted to shut Jesus up; the common people could not stay silent and spread his fame everywhere.
Imagine the scene. Masses were coming to Jesus and listening to his teaching. Multitudes of sick people were being brought to him and miraculously healed, Yet, the only thing the religious leaders could see was that the disciples had not washed their hands. Petty, childish, rule-keeping tendencies have always been a hindrance to the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is not comprised of making and keeping rules. The traditions of men nullify the love-based commandments of God. Evil is not a matter of being contaminated by unclean things from without. Rather, it is the state of my heart that makes me do evil. This is why Jesus is such a treasure to the one who recognizes his own evil heart. This is also precisely why the religious people who justify themselves by their works have no need of Jesus. He is an affront to their self-righteousness systems. And these systems can be religious or political.
Jesus could have aligned himself with any of a number of major “parties” in his day.
- Herodians were influential Jews who were favorable toward Greek and Roman customs.
- Sadducees were privileged aristocrats of society; religious professionals who were the landlords of the temple.
- Pharisees were “separate ones” – a small, fierce resistance to Greek culture. They preserved and reinforced Jewish identity when it was most at risk.
- Essenes were religious radicals. They had already withdrawn from Jerusalem, formed their own strict community. They even thought the Pharisees were lukewarm.
- Zealots were political revolutionaries who wanted to get rid of the Romans by force.
Jesus was not a Pharisee or Essene, for he touched and lived with unclean people. He was not a Sadducee, for he did not sell out to a political system (Rome). He was not a Zealot, for his allegiance was to a greater kingdom, a higher authority than Jewish nationalism.
Jesus was (and is) the Son of God. He is the King of a greater kingdom that is emerging and spreading through his followers. He aligned Himself with his Father and with the common, needy people who were often taken advantage of by the other groups.
Throughout history, mankind has put their hopes in human leaders and in every instance, without fail, the result is disappointment. Our hope is not in an institution or a party – our hope is in a Person. And, because we are changed by that Person, we have become carriers of this great kingdom to those in need around us. We are agents of hope and change and Jesus is the source of that hope and change! I am not saying that we should stick our heads in the sand and not vote – I am just reminding us of the only One who is worthy of our allegiance and who can bring real change. Our job is to align with Him, to let change begin in our hearts and then to allow him to change others through us.