Jesus flipped the pyramid
If politics and governance have taken front and center of our attention, it is because we have sought our salvation, our dreams and aspirations from their most human side. As Christians, we have turned to the surface at the expense of the spirit, even at our own capacity and accountability to shape ourselves and our nation. Somewhere is a great disconnect.
It is not that politics and governance are, in themselves, wrong – just wrongly understood, wrongly applied, and wrongly assigned to save us, to make our dreams come true. But when we see surface and not seeing from where that surface emerges, then politics and governance wrongly interpreted. The well-being that is sought by citizens has proven to be more theory than reality, more wish that truth. Worse, the very factors that guarantee our disillusionment are what are mostly in play.
Because we think we understand what democracy is, we think we have chosen it, and we think we are living it. Sorry, there is an awfully wide gap between what we think and what we do, what we experience. I know that the ideal and the actual have their natural gaps, but they do not have to get wider. In fact, our journey, or our relationship to politics and governance, are precisely established to narrow and close the gaps.
The more known Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, may have imagined politics and governance in very radical ways in their time, but they were never as radical as Jesus Christ. From the beginning of time, or humanity, at least to the part that man has discovered or inferred as of today, power always rested in a person or small group of persons, kept there by superior force, by armies of believers and followers. In short, power has always been centered in one. We may speculate that kings and emperors and dictators were regarded as representative of the most powerful – God (in whatever way he was seen or called).
Bring glad tidings to the poor. The last shall be first. Whatever you do to the least of them, you do to me. Free the oppressed. Sight to the blind. Release the captives. At the gates of heaven, answer these questions: Did you feed the hungry, quench the thirsty, clothe the naked, comfort the sick? The innocent and the weak are elevated in value, not exploited by power. The pyramid of importance was flipped, from kings to beggars, from fierce warriors to widows and children. Revolution, not against power per se, but whom power should serve.
When the value of the least is raised, the value of the rest is not diminished. Rather, instead of using force against evil, Jesus showed love. Instead of vengeance, forgiveness. Instead of retaliation, turn the other cheek. Instead of power, compassion and wisdom. The greater good for all above the interest of power.
After all, what is a statesman? Is he not one who has skill, wisdom, and elicits respect? The terms given to those who wield power, from raw force to political and military influence, are many – but not statesman. Remember when Jesus was being arrested and Peter took out his sword and cut off the ear of one soldier? Peter was chastised, being told that the game is now different, that the rules have changed, that the surface must subordinate itself to the inner, and that the temporal must give way to that which endures. The prudence and temper of statesmanship understand that good is greater than evil, and evil coopts all those who seek to fight it by provoking anger and hate in them.
By raising the value of each one as equal in worth and dignity, Jesus affirmed the anchor belief of democracy. By teaching love as the operative attitude for all, Jesus affirmed the anchor principle of community life. Confronted by the only practice of power then, the use of superior force, Jesus quietly flipped the pyramid. He shied away from blessing kings and warriors, even bishops and priests, and told them instead to care for the poor, for widows and children.
It has come to pass that laws made by man today ground themselves on constitutions, on implementing rules and regulations, on lawyers, judges and courts. That is the awesome gap between what Jesus taught and what Christians have understood because the former is the ideal and the latter is the real. It should not surprise us why much of the world is not only unstable but in actual turmoil because the gap between ideal and real cannot but demand change, revolution, and statesmanship.
Flipping our value system is so radical because we do not realize how conditioned we have become to what is familiar – even if it has not brought enough benefits, even if we suffer from it. Unless we are brought to the edge, unless our suffering becomes life-threatening, we choose to tolerate what is faulty rather than risk embracing unfamiliar change. And while we nurse disappointments and frustrations, translated into deadly stress that cuts short the life span of many, we still fear more flipping the pyramid.
If our politicians and bureaucrats will remain attached to what fails as long as it is familiar, and most do, if our justice system will choose form over substance, if our value system will choose money over well-being, it will spin the vicious cycle even faster. Jesus came over two thousand years ago to tell us there is a better way. He showed us revolution, he showed us statesmanship. He flipped the pyramid, equalized and democratized dignity and opportunity. He even chose to die so we could understand that death surrenders to a longer existence, that power is at its peak when it is compassionate.
Jesus comes again, as a child, to gently nudge us. Let us welcome him.
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