jesus’ wilderness testing as a paradigm for christian vocation
Is it problematic that it is so often impossible to distinguish the social visions of most Christians from their political party of choice?
Over the weekend I went on retreat to heaven (i.e. Cudgee) with friends from Melbourne. One of the things that we discussed at a number of points was the story of Jesus’ wilderness temptation in Matthew 4.
In this story we see Jesus, the one who was sent to change everything, being offered the apparent means to enact such change and solve many of the world’s problems – material possessions, religious power and political power. Rather than accepting such earthly power, Jesus rejects it – it is simply not the way of the kingdom of God.
Jesus instead chose a different way, a way in which people were invited into the life of God in the world, not coerced by power. This Way was not grasped by those in power, and this incomprehension continues today.
Christians are called to continue this mission, one of embodying rather than enforcing, of inviting rather than inciting, of compassion rather than control. It is the way of love.
What does this Way embodied by Christ mean for Christian engagement with modern politics, with the centre of power?
Big question, no doubt. At the very least it should call into question the Christian allegiance to a particular form of political power and ideology, lest Christian hope be collapsed into the policy platform of some party. Jonathan Cornford, in an essay that deserves as much attention as possible, makes an important point:
Essentially, where we have identified problems in the world, we have generally failed to own them as our own problems. There is a great truth in the popular wisdom which notes that whenever you point the finger, there are three fingers pointing back at you. Hence the strength of Jesus’ language concerning logs and specks.
Conversely, because we have lost sight of what the problem is, it is not surprising that Christians working for change often lack a clear vision of what the Christian hope is for this world. It has been my observation that the political outlook of most ‘progressive Christian activists’ is basically the policy platform of the Australian Greens, or perhaps the Democrats. Is this because a secular political party has somehow arrived at the same view of society as Jesus of Nazareth? I don’t think so. The real reason is that for the last three hundred years most of the church has studiously avoided having an opinion on most matters of social and economic life. What is a Christian perspective on the stock market? Or the real estate industry, or superannuation, or health insurance, or land use, or genetic modification, or … whatever? In the absence of any solid teaching from the church on these matters, politically minded Christians have understandably turned to the nearest and most amenable secular ideology.
Of course the same point applies to those of a more conservative bent, and their preference for parties of the Right, since they are less in view in Cornford’s essay, being directed as it is at socially progressive Christians.
It seems to me that Christian hope and vocation has too often been subsumed in other ideologies, other -isms. As Cornford says, we have “become trapped in the same tired old debates between socialist and capitalist, between conservative and progressive, and between environmentalist and rural producer.” As a result we end up with nothing uniquely Christian to say, as if the mission and teaching of Jesus was made unnecessary by later ideologies. Worse, we have so often relied on those in positions of power to bring about our preferred social vision that we have not actually embodied it.
To return to my original question – Is it problematic that it is so often impossible to distinguish the social visions of most Christians from their political party of choice?
If so, what is a uniquely Christian hope? And in light of our view of hope, what is the Christian vocation in the world?
Posted on May 2, 2012, in Advocacy, Church/Ecclesiology, Politics and tagged Hope, Ideology, Jonathan Cornford, Matthew 4, Temptation, Vocation, Wilderness Testing. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.