I have heard from people twice my age that this is the most politically divided the United States has ever been in their lifetime. I believe it. There are probably lots of reasons for this outside of actual issues. Media outlets like CNN and Fox and social media push the envelope in an unprecedented way. Whatever the reason, this nation is divided. Yet division is one thing. In a free nation, division, or I should say difference is welcome and necessary. Intense animosity for the opponent, is altogether another. The beauty of this country is that you are free to disagree with any one of my views and not be imprisoned or executed for it. The tragedy of this country is that you are also free to call me a bigot, narrow-minded, or hateful for disagreeing with your view. That’s where we find ourselves today.
In the Church, however, the story is quite different. Jesus brings a diverse multitude of people into his new people, a new nation. Not a geopolitical nation with physical borders. But a spiritual nation united over time and despite any differences in skin color, language, nationality, and yes, even political opinion. In the Church, Jesus unites what was divided. In the Church, Jesus creates a community of love, grace, and humility.
When Jesus was on the earth, he chose twelve men to follow him around and learn from him. Every one of those men (including Judas who betrayed him) are unique and integral to the gospel story. But two men whom Jesus chose especially stand out in light of our current political climate: Matthew and Simon (not Peter).
Matthew, a Jew, was a tax collector (Matt. 10:3), a Roman government employee. An IRS collection agent, if you will. But a corrupt one. Tax collectors not only demanded you give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but that you also give to Matthew what is Matthew’s. He stole from people. Tax collectors were hated by the general Jewish population.
Simon, also a Jew, was called “the Zealot” (Matt. 10:4)—a fanatical, anti-Rome activist. He was perhaps a violent protestor, militantly opposed to big government. Zealots concealed and carried. They snarled at centurions and were always ready for a brawl. The freedom of Judea was worth it.
Can you imagine having these two men in your small group…this year?
Jesus didn’t accidentally include these two extreme political opposites in his discipleship group. He knew what he was doing. Jesus knew that in his new community, starting with this small band, he would display for the world that allegiance to him and his mission superseded and overshadowed all other allegiances and missions, political or otherwise.
In the community of Jesus, tax collectors and zealots come together in miraculous unity. Only God could do this. Here, tax collectors and zealots learn to appreciate each other’s views, experiences, and passions. Here, they seek to do each other good, not evil. Here, they fight for each other, not against each other. Here, they humble themselves and build each other up. Here, they learn that if you love father or mother or Red or Blue more than him, you are not worthy of him (see Matt. 10:39).
So the Matthews and the Simons are united, but not uniform, of course—they don’t agree on every single issue. Matthew might keep his job and pension. Simon might keep his sword (with a permit, of course). However, their views will, by God’s grace over time, be put in perspective and become balanced. Christ’s glory, not political ideology, becomes supreme. The spread of the gospel becomes their joint venture. Their views are put in check to Jesus’ word and where there is error in one or both views, repentance and conforming to Jesus is required. Where Jesus is silent, there is room for respectful debate, gracious compromise, and the pursuit of just practice for the common good.
The world sees this and shakes its head in disbelief. But this is the way of Jesus. He simultaneously offends and comforts the conservatives and the liberals, calling them to himself. It’s as if he’s saying, Where is your ultimate allegiance? Who is your true love? I am your king. Come find in me what you have always been looking for.