Politics, Economics and the Bible
Those who want to separate politics and economics from religion will be hard pressed not to misconstrue just about every book of the Bible to fit the modern paradigm, or they will simply have to cut out the Pentateuch, the Prophets, most of the Psalter and Wisdom writings, and essentially the whole New Testament. The Bible is a political text; sacred, yes, but it deals directly with an agricultural economy, fishing community, and the politics of Incarnation at every turn.
This is not always clear, however, and it is often coopted by politicians and their supporters who want to construe scripture, along with everything else, to assimilate to one agenda or another, often without concern for the common good. Some of the difficulty discerning the politics and economics involved in scripture is due to how certain passages are translated.
For instance, In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we read that, “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” It’s important to remember that every translation is an interpretation, and translators of this passage are trying to show what Paul is getting at by rendering the passage as noted, but there is a richness lost in the translation. For starters, Paul is clear throughout his writings that it is the faith of Christ, not any one person’s faith, that grants adoption into God’s family. The next part of this particular passage, which seems less important and perhaps outdated in relation to feminist concerns, is the key to understanding what Paul is driving home. υἱοὶ in Greek is translated here as “children.” But υἱοὶ means “sons.” Here’s why “sons” is important. Paul goes on to say that to be clothed with Christ means that our categories of citizenship and gender are completely transformed. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, male or female….” While it seems like translating υἱοὶ as “children” makes sense it does not adequately convey the intimate relationship Paul is trying pressing for us to understand.
The Oneness that Paul says we have with God because of Jesus is the same Oneness Jesus preached his heart out over about his particular Oneness with the Father. The intimacy that Jesus as Son of God has with God the Father is the takeaway, which is why Paul wants us to know that whether we are Israelites or Gentiles, Americans or Mexicans, or whether we are male or female, all of us share in the Sonship of Jesus, and by the faithfulness of this particular Anointed One we share in the Oneness of God. This is where some people might say, “Amen!” or “Thanks be to God!”
The closest thing we have to this sort of intimacy is giving birth, but even this doesn’t quite do justice to the intimacy Paul is describing that we share in Christ with God, because in God there is no separation in our difference. We remain our particular and distinct selves—we are still men and women, but we are no longer male or female, as it were, and at no point are we separate from the intimacy available to us because of Christ.
Isaiah tells of a people to whom God calls out continually saying, “Here I am.” The people we find in Isaiah 65 appear to be worshipping God on the mountains during the day, but at night they go to the graves to participate in pagan ancestral rituals, calling out to the spirits of the dead who do not answer, all the while God is saying, “I’m over here.” “[They] provoke me to my face continually,” says God, “sacrificing in gardens and offering incense on bricks; [they] sit inside tombs, and spend the night in secret places….”
It was typical in pagan and ancestral religions for spiritualists of all sorts to engage in feasts at the graves where evil spirits were believed to show up. Think caldron pots and potions, people desiring to commune with spirits by eating animal flesh. In addition to favoring the spirits of the dead over the living God these supposed people of God actually drive away non-Jewish seekers—worried about becoming somehow impure by association, all the while dirtying themselves with idols in the night.
In the Synoptic Gospels, we find a man possessed by demons who has apparently been involved the same sort of pagan rituals the prophet describes in Isaiah 65—he’s been hanging out at the tombs. The context is Gadara, a Gentile territory. There are a number of Jewish merchants profiting by selling swine to Roman soldiers. The connection between the Roman rule of law and pagan idolatry becomes evident in the Gospels, and the clue is that when Jesus asks for the name of the evil spirits who have possessed the man, we are told they are “Legion.” The reference to a Roman Legion is unmistakable, regardless the number of demons attacking the man.
After Jesus heals the man something unexpected occurs. Not only is the local, pagan economy disrupted when the swine plummet to their death, but the man who was once possessed is then found sitting at Jesus’ feet. People were so amazed by this that they flocked from all over to witness this lion of a man sitting with the Lamb in a calm and collected state, reminiscent of what we find toward the end of Isaiah 65, where the lion and wolf lie down with the Lamb and eat hay.
In the Gospels, when the people witness Jesus driving the demons out of their city they do not come close and give thanks; rather, they ask Jesus to leave. After Jesus drives out the evil spirits, the people, on whom God had come calling, beg Jesus to go away.
With Jesus, worshiping in the Temple (or Church) and selling goods for idol worship is no longer acceptable. With Jesus going to church on Sunday and profiting from slave labor is no longer kosher. Confessing that Jesus is Lord and then treating everyone else as less than family is simply not an option.
And here’s the upshot: God keeps calling out to people of every race and nation, as with the people of Israel saying, “Here I am,” inviting those who have ears to hear and participate in a new political-economy where every single person participates in the Sonship of Christ, sharing intimacy with God—a relationship that transcends race, nationality, and gender, and overturns the politics and economics of the world, which seems scary, because we don’t get to hold on to our false securities and controls over who crosses our borders or not. Unlike the politics and economics we often experience in the world today, the political-economy of God’s kingdom appears to begin with listening carefully to those who differ from us, so that we might hear God speaking through them saying, “Here I am. Here I am.”