In the midst of the third and final presidential debate on October 19th Donald Trump captured the tenor of this whole election season when he responded to Secretary Clinton with “ I’m not the puppet, you are!” The exchange summed up how juvenile and petty the campaign has become on both sides. It also demonstrated what a sad state of affairs for American governance has become.
Gone are the days, if there ever were, when politicians campaigned on the issues. When both sides of the aisle at the very least agreed on what the facts were and then shared their differing solutions based on each party’s platform and foundational understandings. Gone are the days when a Ronald Reagan Republican and a Tip O’Neill Democrat could battle it out in the halls of congress then at the end of the day share a drink at a local pub knowing deep down they both shared the same values and concerns for this great country of ours. Today, we have two presidential candidates who publicly loathe each other so much that they were unwilling or unable to share in the civil pleasantry of a handshake at the beginning and the end of their final debate.
Despite all of the juvenile behavior, on November 8th, we, the people of the United States of America, will elect a new president. Who that person will be, I have no idea. But I have to ask this question of the winner, or should I say winning party, ‘ is it worth it.” For the last eighteen months, they have done little more than split this nation with half truths, innuendo, and out right lies. Their opposing rhetoric has destroyed any confidence we have in our government and the election process. They have left this country standing on the brink of anarchy no matter which candidate wins.
Somewhere along the way we have forgotten that we are one nation comprised of a diversity of humanity. A nation once proud of being the world’s melting pot, a country where every citizen was defined as an American first and then by ethnicity. We were once a country that welcomed refugees and the poor with open arms, assuring them that a better life could be found within our borders. Sadly, this is not the case anymore. And if there were any shreds of our past values left, this election cycle has stomped them out. Today, we are no longer defined as Americans first, but as conservatives and liberals. Based on how we self-define determines what news we listen to, what absolute views we hold on gun control, abortion, immigration etc. And dare I say it, depending how we define ourselves along the conservative/liberal spectrum also determines how we define who is righteous or unrighteous before God. As much as I would like to lament over the good old days, history tells us life has not changed much over the years, just the issues we fight over. As Christians, we need look no further than first century Palestine. Back then, the Israel of Jesus’ day was a house divided. There were the Zealots, who not only longed for Israeli independence, they were willing to take up arms and fight against Rome. Then there were the Pharisees, the equivalent to today’s ultra right wing.
They too longed for independence, but unlike the Zealots, they were unwilling to do anything hasty. The slow and steady approach worked just fine. They believed if they were good, if they were true to Torah and lived a fully “kosher” life, then Yahweh would release them from their bondage. I believe the Gospel writers were often unfair to the Pharisees. Yes, they were rigid. They saw most issues in terms of black and white, good or bad. i suspect they there was minimal nuance to how they spoke, but they probably would not have been so difficult if they did not feel the eternal fate of Israel depended on everyone living in accord with Torah. It is between the polarities of literally fighting Israel’s way out of Roman dominance and living as a people in literal spiritual lock-step that forms the context in which the Gospels are written. This is the context in which Jesus preached with authority that the Kingdom everyone was waiting for is near. The only issue was, the Kingdom of which Jesus spoke was not the Kingdom either side was looking for. The Kingdom Jesus spoke of was not a Kingdom to be acquired by physical revolt, nor was it a Kingdom acquired through pious exceptionalism. Instead, it was a Kingdom predicated on God’s mercy and forgiveness. It is a Kingdom which believes that when confronted with the experience of God’s love and mercy, people naturally choose to repent and make amends.
This is how Jesus approached the world. He didn’t encourage others to take up arms against Rome or to judge others who failed to lead a righteous life, he wasn’t interested in discussing the wrath of God. Instead, he simply lived the love of God and to the surprise of the Pharisees, the Zealots and the Sadducees, he offered it to everyone he met. Even Zaccheaus the Tax Collector. Now there was a man everyone in Palestine agreed was despicable. Just by the definition of what Zaccheaus did for a living made him deplorable. No one likes the tax collector, especially a rich one who earned his living by exploiting others. This was a man who gained his wealth by adding a surcharge to the taxes people owed to the emperor. But Jesus didn’t just see a tax collector high up in the tree that day. Jesus saw the whole person Zuccheaus was. A man like everyone else in Israel. A man, who did what he had to do to provide for his family. A man who worried about making sure his family had enough to eat, a roof over their heads, and perhaps enough to pay tuitions to educate his sons. Jesus even also saw that which resides deep within all of us, the child of God who longed for and sought the assurance of God’s love and mercy. As Jesus passes Zacchaeus, he shocks the crowd by calling Zucchaeus down from the tree and honoring him by inviting himself to dine in Zuccheaus’ home.
As November 8th approaches, if this country is to be united once again, then we, the people, along with congress and the president, must put the vitriol aside, let go of the labels that divide us and accept that no matter who we are; black, white or brown, rich or poor, northerner of southerner, alien or citizen, conservative or liberal, republican or democrat, we all God’s Children and we all want the same things. We want to live without the fear of terrorism; either domestic or foreign. We want every child to have the opportunity to develop into his or her fullest potential by having access to a solid primary education, good nutrition and good healthcare. We want the assurance that as we grow old there will be a safety net to catch us so we can retire with dignity and be cared for when we can no longer care for ourselves. We all want a fair justice system where everyone is judged with equity. And and we all want to live in a country where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. Ultimately what we want is for the Kingdom of God to come. And united as a people of God, with God’s help, the Kingdom WILL come.