In this past Sunday’s lectionary text, Mark 8:27-38, the disciples are following Jesus from one place to another. This happens often, but the significance of this journey in Mark cannot be overestimated. The walk to Caesarea Philippi was one into a dangerous place, one of Roman war power, with a conversation that connected to that danger. In verse 31, Jesus tells the disciples that he will be rejected, suffer, die and be resurrected. Peter in particular has a problem with this and privately rejects Jesus’ words. Implied is that the disciples are right there and know what is happening. They, too, were probably deeply troubled by Jesus’ words. The scripture reads in verse 33, “But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ ”
Jesus had been asking who people say he is and then asked who the disciples say he is. Peter had just proclaimed Jesus as Messiah. There were many people claiming to be Messiahs at the time of Jesus. They lived to fulfill the traditional image of Messiah, a divinely appointed king, the likes of King David. No one ended up doing that, but it was what the people looking for a messiah wanted. The messiah would be a king to overcome the occupier and oppressor, in the case of Jesus’ time, the Roman Empire.
Jesus proclaimed a new vision of Messiah, one who was indeed anointed, but not an earthly King. Jesus taught and empowered the people spiritually, healed them physically, to bring about God’s justice in the world. Jesus’ role as Messiah was redeeming the people in order to redeem all creation.
The human desire to be rescued by God in the swooping action of a King is just as pervasive today as it was in Jesus’ time. We speak about our presidential candidates in a way that equates them to Saviors, as if one person could possibly solve our country’s problems in the course of an election or even as serving a term in the presidency.
Only God has that kind of power. As Christians, we proclaim ourselves inheritors power in the waters of baptism through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ with each one of us. We have power, but not the way we think we do. Our vote is not what brings about a more just society; it is the everyday behavior and actions of those proclaim Christ. The problem isn’t that one candidate lacks the power to make the changes we want, the problem is that we shirk our Christian responsibility that includes but is not limited to: sharing what we have with the poor and those in need, holding ourselves accountable to Christian living, showing mercy and kindness before judgment.
Today, I say this ad on Facebook for the organization calling itself the “Elect Jesus Campaign.”
It reeks of Peter’s idea of Messiah. On the website of the organization, they claim to focus on getting people back to worshiping Jesus and putting him as the head of their lives. Honestly, that isn’t the problem. Getting more people to write in the Ballot “Jesus,” as one woman proclaims on the “Elect Jesus” Facebook page that she will do, is missing the point completely.
We have to stop acting as if God will swoop in like a mama bird at any point to rescue humanity. Many Christians believe in a Second Coming of Jesus. Focusing on the Second Coming is no different than Peter’s rebuking of Jesus’ proclamation of what it means to be a Messiah. For me, those who focus so much on the Second Coming, coupled with the “I’m following my personal rules of morality” attitude, completely neglect what justice means in our world from God’s point of view. God’s view is that the least of these will be taken care of and that hospitality and justice go hand in hand. These expectations are in no way new. The Hebrew Bible is full of them and Jesus teaches the same.
We must do the work of creating a society full of God’s vision. This will not happen through a Presidential candidate. This will happen as people of faith actually live the way they are expected to, with mercy in their right hand and justice in their left. Putting a bumper sticker on a car saying VOTE for Jesus is little more than a nod to our faith. It certainly doesn’t encourage people to follow Jesus or make real change in their lives.
People know we are faithful by our lives, NOT BY A BUMPERSTICKER. They know we are Christian when we share welcome rather than judgment. They know we are Christian when we open our table to share food with someone whether they are “the right kind of person” or not. People are looking for Christians that stop judging and start loving. Then, people will be caught up in the same Love of God that we sing about and yet often forget to share with others.
As for voting, people ought to vote for the candidate they feel will best serve the country. Stop expecting them to solve problems overnight that have taken decades to develop. Stop expecting Jesus to be the kind of Messiah Peter wanted and Jesus rejected in the first place. Do some work to make the world a better place. Here’s a hint: that doesn’t happen in the confines of a church now anymore than it did in the confines of the synagogue for Jesus.