President Jesus and Holy Week, Part II

Back in 2008, the New Monastic figurehead Shane Claiborne wrote a generally well received book […]

Bryan J. / 3.24.16

jesusforpresidentBack in 2008, the New Monastic figurehead Shane Claiborne wrote a generally well received book titled “Jesus for President,” riffing off Woody Guthrie’s folk tune “Christ for President.” In the book, Claiborne argued that American Christianity was too invested in the American political system and, as a result, ignoring a significant amount of Jesus’s moral teachings. The title seems to have stuck- “Jesus for President” – and perhaps it’s just my carefully curated Twitter feed, but the phrase seems to be making a comeback again in 2016.

It’s an understandable sentiment: many Christians are scratching their head this year regarding the shrinking slate of presidential candidates. That’s not unique to Christians, most folks seemed disillusioned with the primary process this year. But lots of Christians, Evangelicals especially, are dealing an identity crisis as they struggle to find their place, not just in politics, but in the whole of the public square. There is no respected candidate to call “their man,” or at least there isn’t one in contention to win.

Tweets and write-in campaigns for “Jesus 2016” are more than just protest votes, like the annual votes for Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Cartoon characters are protests against the buffoonery of the political cycle, but there seems to be a sincere religious frustration behind the protest vote for the Son of God. Voting Jesus 2016 says to the world: “the political system has no place for me, so I refuse to participate in it with seriousness.”

jesus-our-presidentAs pious the thought is re: President Jesus, I’m not sure His election would go over so well for the American people. It’s a fun and ridiculous thought exercise, for sure. For example, who would be Jesus’s vice president? Would the Son of God be disqualified from office by the disestablishment clause, or would that count as one of the outlawed religious tests for office? Would an omnipotent being have a need for a cabinet, or if you have the power for resurrection, would you need secret service protection? Jokes aside, there are some serious thoughts worth working through if we’re going to write in Jesus for President:

First, I’m not sure Jesus is really interested in the office of President. In a representative democracy, elected officials are sent to office for the purpose of voicing community interests on a larger level. The power, the authority, comes from the people, from “the bottom up.” Jesus, in the Gospels at least, draws his authority from somewhere outside the people- from God himself, if you take Jesus at his word. Taking a divinely appointed moral voice and demanding it represent the people on a national level? We thought President Kennedy was gonna have trouble being Catholic and answering to the Pope, but Jesus has “the red phone” to the divine Almighty himself!

Second, not only does Jesus not fit into the office of president, but he declines to be a king too. We would not be the first folks suggest Jesus take the political reigns of our country. After Jesus fed 5,000 men and their families by multiplying fish and bread, the crowds conspired to declare him king right then and there. So Jesus ghosts- he leaves the party without telling anyone-  retreating to a hill for prayer, escaping the political intentions of the crowd (John 6). When later questioned if he was truly “the King of the Jews” by Pilate and Herod, his non-committal answers certainly weren’t enthusiastic. And the mocking INRI sign on his cross only served to highlight Jesus’s lack of political savvy.

Third, assuming Jesus receives our request to take political power, we’d likely have a second Holy Week on our hands. Take Palm Sunday, for example, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem to the shouts of Hosannas and waving Palm Fronds. Those Palm Fronds served two purposes- they were convenient and overtly political in nature. If you’ve got your Apocrypha handy (gasp!), during the intertestamental period, Palm Fronds welcomed the Maccabean revolutionaries into Jerusalem after kicking out their previous Greek occupiers, the Seleucids, in the early 160’s BC. The Maccabeans entered Jerusalem and restored the temple, to cheering crowds and waving palms. Jesus, a few generations later, copies their MO, but flips it. Unlike the Maccabeans, who enter Jerusalem on war horses and restore Jewish worship at the Temple, Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey and condemns Jewish worship at the Temple. Jesus subverts all political expectations, rejecting the people’s wishes for kingship and revolution. As a result, the political players of the day successfully plot and carry out his execution by the end of the week. Honestly, if Jesus was our president or king today, nobody would like him, his policies and teachings would be offensive, and someone would figure out a way to end his term early. Did you know 9% of all U.S. presidents died of assassination?


Sadly, putting the divine harbinger and mediator of grace in charge of the law would probably backfire. As much as we might giggle at the idea of Jesus with a cat-of-nine-tails cleansing the capital of lobbyists and corruption, last time he did that, he was “silenced,” to put it mildly. Certainly, Jesus may be king of the universe- everything is under his authority now. But that’s a whole other playing field that gets a lot less airtime on 24 hour news networks.

Part of the struggle of hope- the kind of holy hope that’s rooted in religious expression- is that hope in the divine is hope on another’s terms. In other words, hope is a fundamentally passive state, even if our hopes are political. This is why the idea of hope and wait are often paired together in the book of Psalms, and why hope becomes a centerpiece of Paul’s vision of the Christian life in the New Testament. Instead of hoping Jesus will meet our political expectations, it might be better to pray instead, as we’ve been taught, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s a surprising political prayer, and it gets to the heart of the struggle of recognizing political dysfunction and our feelings powerless about it. Jesus won’t ever be President of the U.S., but he is still in charge of, you know, the universe. In fact, that might eventually work out better for us.

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