What does the King have to do with an election?

The minor election cycle (i.e. the two-yearly) is barely over and the major one (four-yearly) has started ramping up so that we have something to think about for the next two years. Just after the election I happened to be driving across the city with news radio on to alert me to traffic problems to avoid. It was interesting to hear both Republican and Democrats speaking about their plans to “get something done” in the next Congress, as well as to learn that those Democrats and Republicans were elected with the lowest percentage voter turnout since the early 1940’s. Each side was talking about its priorities and, not surprisingly, there was no mention of themes that had been big during the election especially when addressing religious groups: abortion and/or reproductive rights, marriage, whether defense of or equality of, moral issues of any type. 

The President was still interested in immigration reform (surely an important moral and religious issue
since care for the immigrant runs from cover to cover in the Scripture), but I never heard a legislative leader mention it as high on their priority list. The Latino vote was no longer needed now that the election was over. Instead, they were revealing what their real priorities were, not what priorities they had to have to try to manipulate and motivate voters. And perhaps they were revealing who they “owed one to” for kicking in the millions needed to finance their campaigns. The rhetoric will switch back in another year, however, for we will
be closing in on another election and religious and/or Latino voters will again need manipulating.

I was reminded of the experience above while reflecting on a video I watched by the Very Reverend Robert Barron, “Priest, Prophet, King” . What struck me (besides the fact that the seminary of which he is rector is still as
stunningly beautiful as it was when I used to use its library when I was studying in a nearby evangelical seminary) was the contrast between the politics I was hearing on the radio that day and the politics of Jesus (which is also the title of a book by John Howard Yoder that I have enjoyed and that influenced me deeply). On the one hand, using the picture of the prophets of Ba’al in their conflict with Elijah, Barron suggests that politicians today and we ourselves may be “hopping around” various “altars” such as those of money (how else can one finances a campaign), power {while writing this I received a tweet of a quotation by C. S. Lewis, “Those who begin worshipping power soon worship evil.”), honor (the competition for which fills the political world), and pleasure (it is indeed addicting, just as addiction can lead to a downfall). In contrast to this worship of the Ba’als,
look at what Jesus, a prophet more alone than Elijah, a king more exalted than David) despises on the cross, as well as what he loves. He loves the will of the Father, he loves his followers (most of whom have deserted him), and he loves his enemies (“Father, forgive them . . .”). He despises human honor (he could not have been more shamed on the cross that he chose), power (even his hands were pinned down by the power of Rome), pleasure (none of that in the cross, if one does not count sour wine), and money (his last possessions were being gambled away at his feet). But he was indeed God’s ruler, ruling in God’s way, and defeating the powers the bind us. We too, if we are to be truly free (rather than living the American myth that we are free while bound to countless
addictions) need to despise what Jesus despised and love what he loved. We need to follow Jesus.

While Fr. Barron is a Catholic – and perhaps the most articulate apologist for the Christian faith today – the themes he articulates are not Catholic in any partisan sense but biblical, as well as ringing down the centuries of the Christian spiritual tradition. In fact, many of them are pre-Christian in the sense that they are ancient Israelite, for the Psalms caution one about putting one’s hope in “man” or “might” (principally military
might but financial might would do as well). The Psalmist was thinking about rulers, but it applies as well to any party in these United States and to those who hope in them – there is no salvation there, for all are “hopping” around various “altars.”

Of course, this reflection applies to more than politics. I soon expect to travel to the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting, where many will be vying for power and honor in the (usually but not always polite) push and shove of the academic game. Then comes Thanksgiving, which is now just the prelude to Christmas, when Mammon rules. The siren songs of the retailers is already being sung seductively, “Come buy. You need this. Hop around the altar of Mammon.” It will only get louder. They may even suggest it is one’s patriotic duty to boost the economy. And, of course, through all of this and on into the New Year and then more and more as the new election cycle advances people will be seeking honor and power, trying to get into the “inner circle,”
as C. S. Lewis called it (I think especially of That Hideous Strength, but he wrote of it in many places). They will cozy up with money and cozy up with politicians who appear to have power. (A photo-op with a senator or perhaps governor, especially if he or she has candidate potential for higher office – forget the President, for he is a lame duck.) They will want to appear to be in that “inner circle,” and those with such this-world power and influence will give these “disciples” the impression that they are indeed privileged and honorable – so long as the disciples “hop around” the same “altar” that the politician hops around. But it is not just those with social, political and financial power (and those “disciples” who do not realize it, but who are their sycophants) who are vulnerable to such seduction, but so are we/ so am I. It lies behind the parties in 1 Corinthians and we are part of a “Corinthian” church. Lord, save me.

“Priest, Prophet, King” is something of an Advent offering (it was released in fall, 2014), something to meditate on during this preparatory season for Christmas (although Barron is also offering daily Advent meditations). Perhaps if I really get the message of these videos all I will want for Christmas will be a crucifix so that I can cling to it and recall Christ crucified even as the world goes mad (in God’s eyes) around me. Then I will with Paul want to be conformed to Jesus’ death, despising what he despised and loving what he loved, so that his life, not the life of this world may be manifested in me.

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