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Politically Correct

I don’t like politics. I find it wearisome and boring. Or least that’s what I tell myself, but the deeper truth is that I don’t like politics because I don’t really understand it. At all. It doesn’t seem to make much sense and although what is discussed by politicians changes the world around me, I find it difficult to see how what is said in the political arena will impact the real world. And I know that I can’t even begin to understand what is involved in trying to run a country. But politics affects every part of life and so for me to not be interested in politics would be to not care about life, because in many ways life is politics and politics is life. Maybe I’m just making it too complicated, I might not know politics, but I do know life!

You may have heard it said that religion and politics should mix. It can be hard enough to maintain unity in a Church with many different religious views without trying to hold together a variety of political opinions too. But I don’t believe that this is what Jesus would want. To take politics out of our church lives would be to make a split between the heavenly and the earthly and to remove God from some parts of our world. Jesus was just as much concerned for the physical needs of those he met with as he was with their spiritual needs. He cares about the whole of our lives and everything that affects them. That means that His teaching applies as much to politics as it does to anything else. In college we’ve been learning about this, about what is called socio-political reading of the bible. It might sound strange and complicated, but it simply means looking at what the bible says about politics and about life.

I think a good example of how Jesus’ teaching speaks about these things can be seen in the passage that we often refer to as “the widow’s mite” which I preached on a little while ago. Mark 12:38-44 consists of two short passages back-to-back. The first tells of Jesus warning his listeners about temple scribes who took advantage of the vulnerable. The second passage then tells us of Jesus sitting down in the temple where he was teaching, and watching as a poor widow gave all that she had to the temple. These passages are often used to compare those who pretend to be Godly but who are actually selfish, with those who appear to have little worth but live to please God. In doing so they would encourage us not to worry about outward appearance, but to concern ourselves to using what we have for God.

There is value to this personal challenge, however, if we look at these passages from a socio-political point of view, we can see that there is even more to this. Jesus begins his warning with the instruction “watch out”. The passage about the widow then begins with Jesus watching, making a clear link between the two. This suggests that the widow in the second passage might be an example of the widows whose houses were being devoured by the temple scribes Jesus warned about in the first passage. It’s also interesting to note that Jesus never says anything about whether what the widow did was good or bad, which is a little unusual if he was wanting his disciples to copy her. Rather than making any judgement on the widows’ actions, Jesus merely points out that the cost to her was much greater than any of the others even though they put in more.

Reading the passage in this way changes the focus of the passage and implies that it is more about the unfair expectations being placed on the poor widow than praising her for giving up all that she had. It is good to trust God with all that we have, and in some special cases He might even ask us to give up what we have. But there is nothing in the bible about God wanting us to be impoverished. In fact, the bible is all about the abundant blessings that He wants to give to us (although it should be said that sometimes the blessings we want are not always what He wants to give – but what he wants for us is always better and beyond what we desire for ourselves). And on the occasions when Jesus asks people to give things up it’s always because they’re getting in the way of them getting closer to Him – like the rich man in Mark 10:17-31. Jesus’ concern is not about the widow giving up everything she has, but about freeing her from unjust pressure to give beyond what she can afford.

The poor widow was poor in wealth, that is to say that she didn’t have much money. But there are other things that we can be poor in too, for example I could have little spare time or be suffering with ill health. All of the things that we can have much or little of, effect our lives and effect what we can do. Much like the poor widow we can feel pressurised to give of ourselves beyond what we can really afford. This could be costing us money, time, or energy that we don’t have to spare, or anything else that we might be limited in.

We can also be like the temple scribes, even without realising. Sometimes on our own and sometimes as a community or a church, we can put expectations and pressure on others to do things which cost them more than they can really afford. And we might not even realise that we’re doing it. We can never really know all that someone else is going through and often we hide our vulnerabilities from each other, but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. So we need to be caring of each other and careful not to judge others or push them to do things they feel unable to do. Equally, we shouldn’t let ourselves feel guilty when we’re not able to do what others want us to, nor allow ourselves to be pressured into giving or doing more than is wise for us to. God alone knows what each of us has and can afford. He knows and sees exactly how much all you do costs you and He values it truly!

Originally written for the June 2022 ABC Newsletter

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