Unprecedented Times, continued

by: Kelsey Knobloch

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” – Ephesians 5:15-16

 A few weeks ago, I wrote to you about how these times aren’t quite as unprecedented as you might think. We looked at times in the Bible where the faithful were separated from God, from one another, and from the sacraments. COVID-19 has done quite a number on the state of the church, and we are still recovering. While we have recently begun meeting in person once again, other churches choose not to. But this isn’t the only challenge the church is facing right now.

In addition to religion, there’s one other thing you’re not supposed to talk about at the dinner table: politics. It’s easy to see why. There are so many opinions, so many viewpoints, and so many issues. Everyone thinks they’re right, and if you don’t agree then you just don’t understand.

 The Bible makes it seem like times were so easy way back when. Other than that one table-flipping incident (Matthew 21:12-13), Jesus walked around, told people their sins were forgiven, and the people loved him. It was simple. How much of a wildly different world do we have today? If it’s not an argument between Catholics and Baptists, it’s an argument between Republicans and Democrats, or Baby Boomers and Millennials, or whites and blacks. There are so many people who have set themselves up as the end-all-be-all of truth that sometimes it seems we can’t have civil discourse about anything. In the Bible, people were either Christian and obviously good, or Romans and obviously evil oppressors. The political landscape today is unprecedented…or is it?

The more you look, the clearer it becomes that the political landscape of biblical times was anything but calm. The kingdom of Israel wasn’t free during the time of Jesus; in fact, it hadn’t been since the Old Testament king Jehoiakim in 587 BC (around the time the book of Jeremiah was written). The colonies that would become the United States of America didn’t even exist 587 years ago.  The kingdoms of Israel and Judea, having been besieged by their nearby, more powerful neighbors, were under Babylonian rule. And that’s just the beginning. The Biblical ‘Holy Land’ has a much more turbid history than our country today.

By the time 530 BC rolled around, 57 years after the Babylonian captivity began, the people of Judea were allowed to return to their home in Jerusalem. But they still weren’t free. Persia had conquered Babylon, so they just traded one ruler for another (albeit one that was a bit more lenient). Next, Alexander the Great took over for the Persians in 332 BC (that’s about 200 years later, for those of you keeping track), followed by one of his generals, Ptolemy. Then the Seleucids (descendants of another one of Alexander’s generals) ruled the area starting in 198 BC.

Finally we’ve reached an America-level timescale. 198 BC, or Before Christ. 198 years ago in America was 1822. It was certainly a different time in our country, and it’s so far away that no one living remembers it. And yet that time, nearly 200 years ago, shaped our nation into what it is today. Now add another 300+ years of history on top of that, and you can begin to see how the history of Jesus’ birthplace had a lot going on.

Back to our history lesson for a moment: in 167 BC, 31 years after the Seleucids took control of Judea, there was a revolt. The people of Judea retook Jerusalem and ruled the land on their own…at least for about 100 years, until Rome came in to settle a civil war that Judea was having, and then never left.

So in less than 200 years, the country where Jesus lived, preached, died, and rose fought for and gained its independence, had a civil war, and once again was subject to rule by someone else. The United States has existed for 244 years and, during that time, also fought for and gained independence and had a civil war (as well as a couple other conflicts for good measure). We haven’t become subjects of another country like Judea, but at the very least America seems equal to the political climate Jesus faced.

But global-level politics isn’t everything. During Jesus’ time there were Pharisees and proselytes, Samaritans and Sadducees, Zealots and Zadokites, Hellenists, and more. These were just some of the prominent groups in the area, and each one of them had their own beliefs, agendas, and roles. The Pharisees wanted the Jews to live separate from everyone else and revert to a stricter system of laws, while the Sadducees were content to live under Roman rule as long as they could maintain their current religious rules. Proselytes were gentile converts to Judaism and at least somewhat related to Samaritans, who had been deemed ‘corrupted’ by intermarrying; neither group received full acceptance by the Jews. Both these groups feared what had happened to the Zadokites, a group that had been expelled after the revolt in 167 BC (but who continued to exist nearby and later copied the Dead Sea Scrolls). The Zealots wanted to overthrow their Roman rulers (and even tried to do so in 66 AD), adding even more chaos to the mix, while Hellenists accepted Roman rule.

Got all that straight? Or did your eyes glaze over? The point is that there was just as much social and political unrest during Jesus’ ministry as there is today. And you know what? God’s word still abides. Despite the chaos, the confusion, the arguments, and the differences, the love of God shone through. His word made its way to us in the year 2020. His truth prevails, even today, and it prevails in peace.

Paul writes that we should share the Word of God “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ bay be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:15b-16) Paul encourages us in Titus 2 to be, among other things, “dignified, self-controlled, …reverent in behavior…, [and to] show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” (verses 2 & 3, 7 & 8). When is the last time you can say that your conversations, especially political ones, fulfilled all of those rules?

Now don’t mishear me. I’m not saying one shouldn’t speak up against injustice or keep silent when something you know is wrong is happening. We’re also encouraged by scripture to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Proverbs tells you to “open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”( 31:8-9) But while you open your mouth, while you defend their rights, speak in love. Have your political discourse, but have it calmly. Remember that you represent Christ, and you bear His name as a Christian. Think how much good could be done if everything was done with God in your thoughts, in your actions, and in your words.

Don’t let the politics get you down. Don’t fall victim to the state of the world. Jesus made it through His political climate with composure and grace, sharing love. He gives us the strength to do the same.