Jesus and His Surprising Story Against Nationalism

Jesus and His Surprising Story Against Nationalism



Imagine if you heard someone saying, “Jesus only cares about his own Jewish people, he does not care about the outsiders, those who are dogs and unholy. He does not care about any other country or people group such as, _________, (fill in the blank) only Israel and his own Jewish people.” Would this upset you? Would this make you want to trust in this Jesus? Or would you feel you were excluded and unworthy?

It has been very popular in the history of the world to use Jesus as a national icon, a symbol to be reckoned with (think of Constantine using the cross to go to war). Jesus has been presented as the great excluder and the executioner, someone who has been exploited and used for humanities corrupt ambitions at building a kingdom on this earth at the expense of maiming and hurting others.

What I am proposing is this; what if Jesus has been largely misrepresented and misunderstood? Jesus’ story clashes with his certain people’s interpretations of their story. The story about Jesus takes place in tumultuous times. Israel has been awaiting the justice (righteousness of God) to vindicate them as a people living under the oppressive forces of Rome and many other oppressive powers before that (of course not all Jews held onto this belief). The promise in the Hebrew Scriptures was that a Davidic ruler (see 2 Samuel 7) would come and bring forth righteousness, a justice that would subdue Israel’s enemies and vindicate them as a people (think of what David did to his foes) and unite the Israelites under YWHW.

What happens in the Jesus story is another story while using the same story.

John the Baptizer shows up and announces the good news about a coming Messiah who would fulfill their stories plotline (see Mal. 3:1, Isa 40:3; Matt 3:3). What happens instead is this; Jesus kind of rewrites the script and expands the story of the Jewish people. The people following Jesus around keep waiting for him to free them from their neighbors and enemies bringing the righteousness and Justice of God with him. Instead, Jesus is having compassion on tax collectors and those working for Rome (making them followers). Jesus makes provocative statements about loving ones enemies and praying for those who persecute them. I am sure they were thinking, “Alright Jesus, we get it, but this is not what we were expecting.” Jesus does not fight his enemies and those on the outside of Israel. John the Baptizer is sitting in prison about to be get his head knocked off (literally) and he sends messengers to Jesus asking, “are you the one to come or should we look for another?”

John the Baptizer was certain that Jesus was the one to come, even before his public ministry. Now he starts doubting and his followers wonder, what’s happening? The baptizer knew the scriptures all too well about a coming justice and righteousness that would war against the oppressors. Instead Jesus is doing something completely different and they are stumbling to keep up with his every move. Jesus and his disciples are traveling town-to-town bringing the good news and people are accepting and rejecting. Some of Jesus’ disciples are upset with some of the responses and results, so they ask Jesus, “Should we call down fire?” Obviously they are probably thinking of Elijah. What happens next is typical with the disciples and Jesus; Jesus rebukes them!

There’s this really cool story about this woman who meets Jesus at Jacob’s well and the disciples notice Jesus talking with this Samaritan. Samaritans were considered half-breeds and the Jews did not like them very much. They were not part of YWHW’ salvific plan (so they thought). What Jesus does next is not expected; the woman realizes that Jesus is the Messiah (anointed one) and is very excited and Jesus tells her, “a day is coming where people will worship everywhere.” This probably blew his disciples minds, they had probably thought, “Um, Jesus, your wrong, we will worship only here in Israel.”

The story of Jesus takes a really dark turn. The man offering forgiveness, healing and hope to those without hope, becomes numbered with the cursed (this curse ended up being our remedy). His disciples were not expecting this to happen in the story. Jesus is arrested and tried before Rome and the Jewish leaders and many agree, ”sentence this trouble maker to death.” Not just any death, but death on a Roman Gentile cross. The man who said, “forgive your enemies, love those who persecute you,” is now living into his words (of course his whole life reflected these words) the man who had compassion and love towards Jews and Gentiles is now being killed by those he loved and forgave. I am glad the story does not end with just a bloody death.

Sunday something huge happened, the unexpected occurred. Jesus is raised from the dead and is on the loose and not even death could keep him bound (I will save this for another post). The disciples have these post resurrection experiences that lead them to make the declaration, “Jesus is Lord.” What kind of Lord? He’s the Lord full of compassion and mercy, the Lord who humbles himself to the point of death, the Lord who forsakes himself for the sake of the forsaken, he is the Lord who saves those who are written off and living on the margins of society.

So do you still think Jesus was nationalistic? It seems to me, Jesus shattered nationalistic expectations. This leaves me asking, “Who does Jesus welcome in that the church and society has largely rejected and written off?” How do we love like Jesus loved? How does our love for people cross cultures and people groups who may not live like us?

If you read the whole thing, thanks, it was long, hopefully you did not fall asleep.

Here is a question to contemplate: Do you think Jesus transcends culture, people groups, and nations? How big is the Jesus you claim to love and serve? - Casey Dayton

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  1. I would argue that nationalism has a place. Self government, “obey your leaders”, even Jesus acknowledged Pilates “authority” as being from God. The problem is the idea that nations have independent “sovereignty”. While the bible supports nationalism it seems to do so with the understanding that there is a moral law that superceeds nationalism. It is the foundation of “crimes against humanity”, and it suggests that rulers, leaders, even nations that suppress righteousness, under a cloak of nationalism, will one day give account for their actions in a court that will impose eternal sanctions.

  2. Hi Jay, I agree with you (Romans 13). What I was saying was this, Israel’s expectations about a coming Messiah were not met with the visions and hopes they had. In other words they were let down, we see this repeatedly in the Gospel stories; they are continually baffled and confused by Jesus’ actions. Nationalism is expanded in the kingdom of Christ, it is not just a Jewish question, it is a everybody question. Jesus seems to expand Israel’s story, it is no longer bound to one people group, his story invites all people groups into the kingdom of God (Matthew 28). For example if we look at the story of Abraham, God promises him that he would bless all nations through him. What happens in the Israel story in many ways is like every nations story, people exclude and war against their neighbors and demonize other human beings in the process (rather than being a light to the nations). The story of Israel gets off track and it seems that the gospel writers are trying to tell us that Jesus has refocused the Abrahamic promise about being a blessing to the nations, we see glimpses of the nations coming and worshipping YHWH in the prophets (Isaiah), but it is never clear how this happens (God uses the Jewish people and even their bizarre imperfect ways of doing things, to bring about the Messiah Jesus). The Gospel writers show us how this happens, Jesus takes the Israel story and re shapes many of the themes about what it means to be Israel and centers it around Himself (which he demonstrates a new way to be human), rather than harming people, Jesus says, “Love your enemies,” rather than fighting people who hurt you, Jesus says, “bless those who persecute you.” This was not what Jews of the first century were expecting a Messiah to say or do. Rather we can read 1 Enoch and many second temple books and discover a warring Messiah figure/Son Of Man who would kick butt and take names. Jesus seems to do the opposite, which is why many of the disciples are confused and many of the Jewish leaders are upset with him (Jesus obviously did not look like the war machine they wanted).

    The vision found in Revelation is that all people groups would come into the kingdom of God and worship Him in peace (no longer demonizing each other). The real danger and problem with human nationalism is this, “We are all right in our eyes.” Which is why we await our king from heaven, the one who will bring about the final Justice and righteousness that will unite the nations unto Himself.

    Thanks Jay.

  3. Good word. I do see “nationalism” being something that Jesus came to remove from the world, if one defines nationalism as an attitude that one’s own people are superior or more favored than another people group. As far as the governmental authorities passage in Romans 13, Paul does state that governmental structure is from God but the Christian is obligated to “fall in line” if you will in so far that you aren’t disowning Jesus as your Caesar. However, when we do take a stand, Paul demands we do not act “violently” in our resistance to an abusive government. The word in the passage “resist” means “to stand up in aggression” so we are to avoid “using the sword” because Jesus did promise that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.

    Anyways, I’m just ranting and raving. Cool word Casey

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