If Jesus walked among us today he would probably not fit neatly into any of our political categories.
BY ROBERT CHAO ROMERO
Matthew 25 Movement
I don’t think he would endorse the full political platform of either the Republicans or the Democrats because each party has biblical blind spots. Two thousand years ago, Jesus didn’t fit neatly into any of the major social groups of his day either.
ONE IN A SERIES:
HOW WOULD JESUS VOTE?
The Sadducees were the party of the religious and economic elite, and they controlled the Temple. Their response to the weight of Roman colonialism was political compromise — partner with the Empire, and protect their own personal interests as much as possible. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day largely overlapped with the Zealots, and their approach was to obey God’s law, pray hard, and wait for the right moment when God would sanction their military revolt.
The Essenes embodied a third response to the corruption of their day — withdraw from society and form a separatist religious enclave.
Jesus did not align himself with any of these three approaches, and so earned the scorn of all. Like the Zealots, Jesus and the early church spoke prophetically against the evils of Roman imperialism, yet also taught his followers to love their enemies and to go the second mile (Matthew 5: 41, 44). In alignment with the approach of the Essenes, he taught his followers to be holy and set apart (Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1: 15-16), and yet also to be salt and light in the midst of a broken world (Matthew 5:13-16). And, to those who would seek to emulate the pattern of the Sadducees and others by mixing their divine calling with the pursuit of earthly riches, Jesus warned:
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24).
We see echoes of these three approaches today in the United States. Our modern day Sadducees align themselves with elite economic and political interests, and are willing to compromise their moral values through political alliances which support their self-interest. We have our Zealots — on the right and the left — who, fueled by animosity towards their enemies, lack an overarching vision of the Beloved Community which includes all. And, we have our contemporary Essenes, Christians who have given up on the world and seek to be a self-segregated community unto themselves.
Now, as then, I think that Jesus would confound all of these approaches and categories, and earn the support and scorn of right and left, conservative and activist alike. To the church in America today, I think he would remind us of his own prayer, and also the words of Paul:
“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17: 20-21).
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ… The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’… But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthians 12: 12, 21, 25-26).
As the Body of Christ in Los Angeles, we need one another. I need you. You need me. And this cuts across political opinion, cultural heritage, and different views of immigration. As sisters and brothers, we cannot afford to divide ourselves. And this is not just sloppy sentimentality.
We should lean into our differences of opinion, rest in the tension, and seek the Holy Spirit together to come up with practical solutions for the tough problems of our day and the suffering we see around us.
We must show equal concern for one another, giving greater honor to the parts that lack it in our society, and suffer with one another. This is what Paul taught. And this is what Jesus modeled for us in his life and public ministry — in Galilee.
History teaches us a lot about how Jesus might vote were he to live in the United States today, based upon his social context of Galilee. Galilee was the place where Jesus was raised and did most of his public ministry. When God chose to become incarnate in human flesh, He chose to be a Galilean. In contrast to Jerusalem, which was the socio-economic, political, and religious center of the Jewish community, Galilee was looked down upon as a distant borderlands region and cultural backwaters where Jewish, Roman, and Greek cultures mixed dangerously and uncomfortably, and where Jewish residents were bilingual and spoke with an accent.
Galileans were the uncouth and unrefined “country bumpkins,” or, to use another analogy, Galilee was “the hood.” Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, was shunned even by Galileans themselves. As Nathanael famously quipped, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1: 46). Most Galileans were peasants and farmers, and they pined under the weight of double oppression. They were exploited by the economic and religious elite of their own people, as well as crushed by the injustices associated with Roman imperialism. And when Jesus launched his movement to transform the world, he began in Galilee and, from this exploited community, chose his first followers and movement leaders. Latino theologians say that this was all no accident, and that Jesus’ selection of Galilee offers a special window into God’s heart.
They call it the Galilee principle: Those that society rejects, God calls His very own.
The Galilee principle offers another clue as to how Jesus might vote were he to live in Los Angeles today. Jesus would probably vote in such a way that extended special compassion to those of the Galilees of the present — South L.A., East L.A., Compton, San Bernardino, Santa Ana, and all those places that are shunned and overlooked by mainstream society. He would care about their families and kids who didn’t have enough to eat or have access to affordable housing, healthcare, or a quality education.
He would be deeply disturbed by the 75% rise in homelessness in Los Angeles, and the 55,000 people in Los Angeles who have no place to call home. And his heart would break for the thousands of Latino families who have been inhumanely separated due to unjust immigration laws, as well for the thousands of children who have been ripped from their parents’ arms at the border and placed in cages.
Having been a child refugee himself, Jesus would deeply empathize with their suffering.
In this historic moment, let us offer ourselves “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God,” for this our “true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1). Let us not conform to the political patterns of this world — right or left — but be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” As we follow the Messiah of Galilee in this way, we will be able to “test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will,” and according to faithful biblical conscience, vote accordingly (Romans 12:2).
Rev. Robert Chao Romero is “Asian-Latino,” and has been a professor of Chicana/o Studies and Asian American Studies at UCLA since 2005. He received his Ph.D. from UCLA in Latin American History and his Juris Doctor from U.C. Berkeley, and is also an attorney. Romero has published 15 academic books and articles on issues of race, immigration, history, education, and religion, and received the Latina/o Studies book award from the international Latin American Studies Association.
Together with his wife Erica, he is the co-founder of Jesus 4 Revolutionaries, a Christian ministry to activists, as well as the co-chair of the Matthew 25 Movement in Southern California.