Text: Mark 1.4-11 – The Baptism of Jesus
Deaths are rising, along with
hospital admissions. Parents and
teachers are frantic. Care-home residents and self-shielding people are desperately
lonely. And that’s not all. The self-proclaimed leader of the free world –
America - is in political chaos.
Lorry-loads of fresh food are being dumped in landfill because of the
wrong paperwork at our borders. 13
year-old teenagers are stabbing each other on our streets. Our world is in chaos as never before in most
of our lifetimes.
And what am I doing about it? I’m carrying on…celebrating the Eucharist,
singing the Mass, praying, and serving as best I can.
Some of you may wonder why I don’t
speak out more often on political matters.
After-all, Jesus spoke out into the politics of his era, and the Bible
is full of instructions about how a fair and just society should be structured. Indeed, as I’ve said myself on occasion, ‘anyone
who thinks that politics and religion don’t mix has clearly not read their
Bible’. But that’s a tricky road. I certainly don’t claim the wisdom of Jesus,
nor of the writers of the societal codes of the Bible. And stepping into politics in more than a
general way is (I have found) a recipe for discord and disharmony among parishioners.
I read an article this week from a
Conservative Christian, the political journalist Harry Phibbs. Phibbs is a former Conservative councillor who
this essay) that our Archbishop’s frequent forays into Government policy
were serving to drag the church to the left, and alienating committed
Christians of the right. Examples he
gave included Justin Welby’s proclamations on the amount of overseas aid that we
give, his explicit endorsement of the Black Lives Matter movement, and his
siding with the EU (and the Opposition) over the Internal Markets Bill.
The nub of Phibbs’ argument was
that when Bishops (and other senior clergy) align themselves with either side
of a political debate, they drive their political opponents away from church,
and from faith. He argued that the
ongoing decline in churchgoing in England (which stands in contrast to much of
the rest of the world) was essentially the result of clergy proclamations on contentious
political issues. And, he may be
right. A majority of the English people voted
for both Brexit and for a Conservative Government. Any institution which vocally
condemns those two majority opinions is just asking for an exodus of members!
Jesus faced a similar conundrum. He came to a society in which the religious
leaders and the political leaders had reached somewhat of an accord. The Pharisees and Sadducees had reached an
accommodation with the Roman occupiers of Judea – so that they could maintain
their religious authority, their wealth and their status. Rome looked after the management of the rest
of society. It was an iniquitous
accommodation – and one which Jesus frequently challenged. He called people back to the source-materials
of their faith, and as we saw last Thursday, he quoted passages of Scripture
which proclaimed good news for the poor, healing for the blind, and release to
captives. And eventually, they hung him
Today, as part of a sequence of
epiphanies (or ‘revealings’) we mark his baptism in the River Jordan. That sequence includes his first epiphany to
the Wise Men from the East. It includes the
revealing of his divine authority through his first miracles – casting out
demons, according to Mark, or changing water into wine, according to John. Today, Jesus is revealed to as God’s
proudly-declared Son, with whom God is well pleased. Later, in another epiphany moment on the Mount
of Transfiguration, God tells Jesus’ followers to ‘Listen to him!’.
The challenge then, for all
Christians who care about the world we live in, is to ask how far we should go
in listening to Jesus, the revealed Son of God.
And, crucially, how shall we proclaim his radical, alternative view of
It is actually quite dangerous to
criticise the individual policies of one’s political opposites. Such criticism inevitably carries with it a
level of judgement. If I criticise your policy,
you are naturally bound to assume that I think you are stupid, or at the very
least that you’ve been lazy in your thinking. Such criticism is not likely to win you to my side.
Indeed, our political debates are far
too often characterised by shouts of ‘idiot’, ‘fool’ and ‘charlatan’.
But what I must do, as every Christian must, is to hold up my finger, and to
ask the ‘what if’ question. What if our
society was structured around the principles that Jesus taught? What if we really ‘listen to him’?
What if our society was structured around the
fundamental notion that ‘there shall be no poor among you’, as the Bible
teaches (Deut.15.4)? How different might
our benefit system be?
What if our society was structured on the assumption
that God’s Kingdom breaks down barriers between people, rather than erecting
new walls? (Is.66.18). How different might
our concepts of nationhood be?
What if our teachers prioritised the teaching of
ethics and spirituality, as Jesus did?
How different might our education system be? And how different would life on the streets
be for our teenagers?
What if our approach to foreign aggression was to turn
the other cheek, rather than to respond with greater violence? How different might our foreign policy be?
What if our approach to healing was as generous and
overflowing as Jesus was to those he healed?
How differently might our health system be structured and funded?
What if our approach to taxation was based on the
Biblical principle of tithing? No more
get-outs, no more write-offs, no more allowances. Just basic 10% tithing. How different would the finances of our
economy be? How different might the perilous
finances of the church be? How many
off-shore tax havens would still exist for the uber-wealthy to secrete their
I don’t know the answers to any of
these questions. They are only questions…they
are ‘what if’ questions. But whether we
sit on the right, the left or the centre of earthly politics, Jesus has wisdom
to offer, ideas to ponder, and guidance to give. With his own body and blood, he has earned
the right to be heard. He is God’s son,
with whom God is well pleased. Let’s
listen to him.