Political Teachings of Jesus

Political Teachings of Jesus

by Tod Lindberg


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Political Teachings of Jesus by Tod Lindberg

A leading conservative thinker explores the political principles of Christ's life and teachings as revealed in the New Testament—and their implications for the modern American political landscape.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061373947
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/06/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Tod Lindberg is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and editor of the award-winning journal Policy Review. A contributing editor to the Weekly Standard and editor of the book Beyond Paradise and Power, Lindberg is a frequent analyst on National Public Radio. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his family.

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The Political Teachings of Jesus

Chapter One

The Beatitudes

The Sermon on the Mount is the most influential piece of preaching ever, a summary of the most important elements of the teaching of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew places it front and center in its account of Jesus's life and ministry. It comes as the climax of the first section of Matthew's Gospel, a sort of answer to the question of what all the fuss over Jesus is about. In the opening pages of the Gospel, we hear about Jesus's genealogy and birth; John the Baptist dramatically preparing the way for "he who is coming" (Mt. 3:11); Jesus's baptism and temptation; and the beginning of his preaching career, in which he recruits his first disciples. The Gospel of Matthew notes: "Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. . . . The news about him spread throughout all Syria. . . . Large crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan" (Mt. 4:23-25). People were willing to travel scores of miles to hear this preacher and teacher—vast distances when the way from here to there was by foot.

One finds in these passages of Matthew a sense of mounting excitement: Jesus began preaching and drawing crowds—and this is what he had to say. The Sermon on the Mount has long been rightly understood as both a starting point and a summation of Jesus's teaching. No less than with regard to his religious teaching, the Sermon on the Mount is also the foundation and the first concise summary of the political teaching of Jesus.

The Sermon on theMount begins with a dizzying commentary designed to turn upside down the political and social world of the Roman Empire of Caesar Augustus and of the Jewish religious elite of Judea and Jerusalem. As if this were not enough, it is also the opening move of a more drastic and fundamental reassessment of political and social affairs, applying not only to its own time but also to all future times, down to our day. More still: it points to the increasing fulfillment in this world of the promise of the human condition as such—and of the struggle against vast and daunting but not insurmountable obstacles that such fulfillment will require.

Jesus begins by describing those who are truly fortunate, the lucky ones of their day. But it is not emperors, conquerors, priests, and the wealthy who enjoy this favor. Rather, it is the common people, those who earthly success has largely passed by: the poor, the meek, the persecuted, the peacemakers. How can this be? Because though they may have been denied worldly success, what cannot be taken away from them is their potential to live rightly by one another. It is all too easy for those who enjoy the pleasures of this world to try to float above such obligations. Jesus goes on to say that so long as ordinary people stand for the right things and do not retreat in their rightness before those who seem to have more power, what's right will prevail. It's their kingdom—a kingdom organized not from the top down, but from the bottom up.

Superficialities, such as worldly success, are accordingly no indication of true worth. Jesus is appalled by the way mankind, supposedly in possession of the law, has used the technicality of the law's commands to subvert its spirit. He says his mission is to fulfill the law. He directs people to look within themselves to discover their true obligations, and he remonstrates against those who think they have complied with the law merely by following its letter.

Some of the laws that have come down from ancient times are themselves incomplete, and Jesus means to flesh them out. The principle of "an eye for an eye," which comes from Exodus (21:24), was an improvement on the practice of taking both eyes for an eye: A principle of proportion replaced an older principle of justice according to which any infraction against the social code or political order warranted a sentence of death. But it is an inadequate improvement, Jesus contends. Likewise, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy" (Mt. 5:43). The first part of the passage, which comes from Leviticus (19:18), is important guidance for those inclined to hate not only their enemies but also their neighbors, but this ancient rule still leaves a world organized around the permanent existence of friends and enemies. Jesus seeks to undermine that juxtaposition and move toward a world beyond enemies.

The effect of Jesus's correction of the law in these cases is to drive people's thoughts inward: Outward compliance with the law is not enough; the question of where the heart is also matters—indeed, is most important. Jesus invites people to confront what drives them in the direction of wrongdoing before they do wrong. Following a law against doing wrong, under penalty of death, is a start, but not until people begin to overcome their interior urges to do wrong will a true community come into being.

Jesus further explores the importance of the interior life by asking why people give to the poor, pray, or fast. Do they give alms to the poor for the sake of the poor or simply for their own sake, in order to be praised for their generosity? Do they pray and fast because they are pious or simply to be hailed for their piety? If all they care about is their reputation—the outward appearance they present—then they will have lost the true benefit that giving to the poor conveys. They should see in the poor an obligation they owe, not an opportunity for their own reward. Jesus reinforces this point metaphorically, admonishing his listeners that the true treasures are not those one can accumulate materially, but the treasures of the heart. When the heart's treasures are secure, material matters assume their proper, secondary place.

The Political Teachings of Jesus. Copyright © by Tod Lindberg. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Anne-Marie Slaughter

“You will never read the Bible or hear a sermon the same way after reading The Political Teachings of Jesus.”

E.J. Dionne

“Lindberg offers a clear, careful, and exciting analysis of Jesus’s political teachings.”

Michael Novak

“Jesusian politics dare to propose a world without enemies...This book makes one think again, and more deeply.”

Andrew Ferguson

“Tod Lindberg has given us a plausible, this-worldly Jesus...It’s a significant achievement—bold, thoughtful, and beautifully written.”

Paul Kengor

“Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, independent, or even an agnostic, you will appreciate this book for its fairness and thoughtfulness.”

Norman Podhoretz

“A fascinating analysis...”

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