John Henry Newman Said: “Evil has no substance of its own, but is only the defect, excess, perversion, or corruption of that which has substance”. This is true in politics as much as anything else. The human political enterprise, in its best and highest form, is our collective attempt to live better together than we can on our own. To weave a fabric of community that supports and encourages, protects and serves, and enables us to grow and prosper. So often, however, politics through the centuries, around the world, and even right here at home, devolves into self-seeking, self-serving, greed, prejudice, corruption, belligerence, ignorance, lies, propaganda, injustice, persecution (and the list goes on)… until it resembles a terrible evil rather than a greater good.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is how he starts his ministry. These are familiar to most Christians: 1) The temptation to provide for yourself and your needs instead of relying on God; 2) The temptation to test God to see if He is true and faithful; and 3) The temptation to worship someone or something other than God. But, notice what is embedded in the third temptation: 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
In this passage, Satan, the devil, is the deceiver, the accuser, the destroyer. He is offering all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus if Jesus would worship him rather than God. If these ‘kingdoms of the world’ are the devil’s to give away, it must mean that he is in firm possession and control of them.
The politics in our world have always been a terrible and ugly evil. Fulfilling John Henry Newman’s quote… the devil offers no new evil of his own… just the power to undercut and pervert and destroy. The kingdoms of the world have been undercut by human arrogance and will to power… AKA self-seeking, self-serving, greed, prejudice, corruption, belligerence, ignorance, lies, propaganda, injustice, persecution, etc. etc. etc.
How does Jesus respond to this temptation? What does Jesus do when given the opportunity for glorious political power? He says: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” And turns down the offer.
Sure, Jesus said this in response to Satan’s bribe… but it also communicates a very important political stance. When faced with the opportunity to ‘own’ the kingdoms of the world and all their majesty (Wealth, power, status, security) Jesus’ response is to worship the Lord our God AND SERVE HIM ONLY. And so should we as Christians and followers of Jesus. Christians are sojourners in a land that is not ours. We are strangers in a land in which we are not citizens. Our Kingdom is not here. Our politics should reflect that. Not aligning too closely with any imperfect political party or ideology, but firmly pledging allegiance to the Lord our God and to serve God only.
What does this look like? It looks like it did when Jesus did it: an undeniable allegiance to God and an unwavering commitment to justice and mercy for the poor and oppressed.
If we start here… we can live the politics of Jesus as a shining reflection of the Kingdom of God in the midst of a whole lot of dark and troubled kingdoms of the world.