Yoder-Short: A world of competing saviors

Dec 18, 2017 by

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The committee deliberated whether the donated yard sign would be posted. There was disagreement. In the end, it was decided that the sign sounded too political.“No matter where you are from, we are glad you are our neighbor” would not be displayed.

Jane Yoder-Short

Yoder-Short

Welcoming neighbors sounds biblical. It echoes the words, “You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19). Jesus clearly reminds us to love our neighbors and our enemies.

Sadly, neighborly love has become divisive. In the United States, welcoming some of our neighbors is shaded with political overtones.

Can we separate biblical from political? What do we do when the Bible starts sounding political and politics becomes shrouded in Christian rhetoric?

I stared at a New York Times photo of the woman holding a “Trump is ‘our’ savior” sign the day before the 2016 election. Who is our savior? Hope, moral superiority and the right path have become linked with political values.

Separating political implications from the biblical narrative is impossible. In this Christmas season, do we overlook the political innuendos that keep turning up in the birth narratives?

When we read Mary’s song, do we hear its political biases (Luke 1:46-55)? Are Mary’s words about the powerful being brought down and the lowly being lifted up too political for a lawn sign? What if Mary’s words about the hungry being filled include refugees and neighbors without papers?

Luke places the birth story in the history of Roman oppression. Caesar Augustus demands a world census (2:2). Luke’s audience connects this census with Rome’s oppressive tax system. As a displaced person, Joseph is required to return to Bethlehem. Why isn’t he living in his hometown? Did Joseph migrate because something was wrong with Bethlehem’s economy? Was he welcome in Nazareth?

Caesar’s titles included savior, lord and son of god. Augustus had brought peace and security to the world. When the angels announced to the shepherds that a savior is born who is the Messiah, the Lord, the world already had a savior, already had a lord (2:11). “Savior” is a politically loaded term. Jesus is born as an alternative savior.

Matthew adds to the political undertones. The wise travelers are looking for the king of the Jews. Herod already is king of Judea. He takes extreme measures to wipe out this new king. If Herod didn’t interpret this as a political threat, why kill all the boy babies?

Loyalty to Jesus continues to compete with the political rhetoric of the day. Which saviors of our world are displaced when we give allegiance to Jesus?

The Christmas season is a time to remember that Jesus, not Caesar, brings peace and security. We celebrate not by joining in some political mess but by putting our hope in a different savior, a different system.

Whether a sign or an action is too political may be the wrong question. A better one is, How can we faithfully follow Jesus in a world with competing saviors? How do we follow Jesus in a world that doesn’t welcome neighbors, that puts the rich on thrones and gives tax breaks to millionaires? How does it look to follow Jesus in a world that stuffs Jesus-followers into inappropriate political boxes?

At times, Jesus-followers sound like we are clashing with the established political systems. At times, we sound subversive as our compassion reaches beyond national boundaries. At times, we sound provocative as we remind each other and our world that there is another way to live, the way of self-giving love.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.


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