The post-election vitriol and venom that’s being slung around like mud seems to be especially destructive and ugly this time around. It says a lot of things, not the least of which is that ours is a highly polarized and passionate nation. This isn’t a bad thing. We ought to fight for the things we believe in and speak our minds when it comes to issues that matter. That’s one of the great tenets of our society – that we are free to say as we please.
Social media is amplifying everything. Facebook and Twitter have become middle school back lots where we stand around with our chests puffed out, our friends standing behind us, cheering us on as we stare down those who disagree, pushing each other a bit but holding back from actually throwing a punch for fear of repercussion or embarrassment. I get it. Emotions are running high. Half of us feel like we’re sinking and half of us feel like we’re soaring. But can we reconsider things a bit?
When Jesus was born in a small Bethlehem cave, the world was in turmoil. Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome, suffocated the land with a violent, iron fist. Caesar, the emperor of the empire, was considered a deity and dominated the political landscape with no equal and no accountability. He was king and lord and no one could say otherwise for fear of execution. The Jews were a marginalized people, living on the outskirts of the empire, paying up to 90% of what they made in various taxes to the empire and fighting amongst themselves about the best way out of the mess they found themselves in. All the while, they were awaiting their Messiah, the promised Savior and King who would be sent by God to free them from tyranny and restore their nation to its rightful place. Almost all of the Biblical story, from beginning to end, is told from the perspective of people living under the oppression of an empire. It is written from the margins, echoing across generations from the cracks and crevices of poverty, slavery and tragedy. Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Assyria, Rome. These are the superpowers in the narrative. Israel is almost always found flattened beneath the trampling feet of empires larger and more powerful.
This is why God commands over and over again to care for the alien and widow and orphan, to leave some crop on the edges for the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to take in the stranger, to visit the prisoner, to clothe the needy and to love the enemy. God is not imposing a set of backwards ideals that make no sense. No. God is commanding them to live in a way that makes the most sense possible. He’s speaking to a nation that has no land, full of widows who’ve lost beloved spouses to war and death, to children who’ve lost parents to famine and disease, to a people who’ve tasted hunger and thirst and who’ve lived on the margins as strangers, to a people who know all too well the dark gray of prison cells, the anguish of desperate need, the bitter cold of winter and the pain of being ostracized as the enemy.
Jesus entered this story and instead of winning an election and toppling an empire, he succumbed to death on the cross. Instead of political victory, he achieved something far greater – victory from the grave. He reversed human trajectory. No longer must we fear the end of this life. And along the way, Jesus touched lepers and ate with prostitutes. He also partied with the rich and drank with the social elite. He didn’t side with the poor or the rich. He didn’t run to the left or right of political center. He simply did away with the divisions altogether in order to remind us all that in God’s kingdom, we are all beloved sons and daughters, nothing more and nothing less.
So in this post election season, as followers of Jesus, may we remember that we are called to make a difference, not just a point. May we remember that no man is our savior nor our downfall. May we remember that we are shaped as a people by the decisions we make on a daily basis, not just on election day. The choice you made to check either “Obama” or “Romney” on your ballot did very little in terms of actually changing the world. Remember that the hard work begins with you. We can all choose to make political policies and agendas the crutches upon which we lean, doing nothing and blaming it on everyone but ourselves. Or we can choose to go above and beyond by loving and giving sacrificially, accepting and embracing those who don’t deserve it, replacing our appetite for fairness with a hunger for grace and mercy. It’s what Jesus did and it is to him alone we ought to pledge our complete allegiance. So today I pray along with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney that God would indeed bless America. And I pray that this blessing would look nothing like what we desire in our selfish hearts and instead would only be what God desires for us as a people.