The Donald leads, but is not a lock, on the Republican side of the presidential primaries. Hillary boasts similar standing on the Democratic side. What if Jesus were running for highest office in the free world?
Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” Peter spoke not only for his fellow disciples, but for the early church. His answer “Messiah” – God’s chosen one – has stood firm for two millennia.
Jesus’s question hasn’t gone away. I answer it today like this: “Jesus, you are my social egalitarian Lord.”
Granted, social egalitarian sounds a bit silly. It’s about as silly as Jesus running for POTUS.
Bear with me, however, and let me unpack the phrase social egalitarian. Egalitarian is a biblical concept, as exemplified in Exodus 5 – “let my people go” – and Galatians 3 – “for you are all one in Christ.” Both the American and French revolutions were fueled by the concept. The word itself has been in use for some 150 years; its root is the French egal (equal), yet it goes beyond equal quantities, measurements, or values to a deeper reality. Egalitarianism emerges and comes to light from a situation of specific inequality—dominance-subordination. Egalitarianism is political in nature: a group or community engaged in the struggle of self-determination within the larger community or with a competing community seeks, attains, and maintains a balance or equity with its competitor. The spirit of egalitarianism opposes unfair advantages; it’s biblical and American to the core.
As for the social aspect of the phrase, we remember that Jesus was pretty good at spending time with all sorts of folks. He spent face time with religious leaders, the outcast, the well-to-do, the sick, the connected, the lame. He also spent time, oftentimes shocking his own disciples, with women and children. Additionally, while travelling, Jesus led his disciples through foreign territories. This was untypical behavior; Jesus’s disciples were accustomed to avoiding certain foreign areas and peoples.
While traversing boundary lands in Mark 7, Jesus and his disciples are confronted by a foreigner – a Syrophoenician woman. She knows something about Jesus and wants him to heal her daughter. Jesus shows typical human behavior in this encounter; he tries to put her off. He seems to know enough about her – that she is a foreigner.
“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
The dogs? That’s blatantly derogatory. This time, at least, Jesus’s reaction to a foreigner is no different than that of his disciples.
“But even the dogs under the table get to eat the crumbs that fall.”
It’s as if she says to him: If you are who they say you are, you need to pick your game up.
And he does pick up his game. “Woman, be on your way. The demon has left your daughter.”
Jesus was human. We tend to see Jesus as having an ever-present halo hovering over his head, indicating his perfect behavior and all-knowingness in all things. But that’s unrealistic and it’s not true to Scripture. To be human is to be limited. Like the rest of us, Jesus had to go through processes and experiences in order to learn and better understand the world and its peoples. This woman showed him something that he needed to learn. He was an advanced social egalitarian before this encounter with the woman; after the encounter, even more so.
To be a social egalitarian in American society today is to traverse boldly against the grain. It is to spend face time with those who are “other” rather than only interacting with those who look, think, and value similar to “us.” American society is highly segregated – perhaps not as racially segregated as in previous eras, but certainly so in terms of socio-economic differences. Unquestionably, wealth is a blessing and (more often than not) a reward for hard and smart work. Wealth can serve as a bubble, however, isolating well-off Americans from other Americans – those who work for minimal wages, have little or no health insurance, and/or struggle under debilitating circumstances.
Do you know anyone – on a friendship level – who lives in poverty? Or anyone who speaks English as a second or third language? Or anyone who practices a different religion than yours?
Politicians – regardless of party affiliation – who negatively stereotype “other people” (including immigrants) are not worthy of the highest office in the land. This society doesn’t need more separation into “us and them,” it needs more interaction between its inhabitants. This society is the world’s richest in terms of diversity, experience, and capabilities. It’s time for us to delve deeper to see where we can trust one another. Fear of the “other” might be good enough to win a party nomination, but it won’t do much good for the society as a whole.
Even Jesus didn’t want to have to deal with a woman who wasn’t part of his regular community. But as she confronted him, he stopped. He looked into her face and into her eyes – and was changed. This is the spirit of social egalitarianism. It is to encounter the other as an equal in God’s eyes and to act upon that conviction.
Jesus, my social egalitarian Lord. This is the one I will follow.
This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. JaLBM, distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.
If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.