The Jesus of Palestine

At the United Methodist General Conference in Portland last summer, Bishop Abrahams preached a sermon titled “Go in the name of Jesus of Palestine rather than Jesus of Constantine”. This sermon has stayed with me ever since, and it was especially on my mind this week.

At the end of his first week in office, President Trump signed another executive order fulfilling another campaign promise – the  ban on Syrian refugees entering this country and additional pauses on immigration from seven Muslim majority nations.The executive order went into immediate effect.

When Bishop Abrahams spoke of the Jesus of Palestine, he was referring to the Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus of Palestine was radically hospitable, deeply concerned with those marginalized and forgotten by society and a persistent challenger of the status quo. The Jesus of Palestine spoke to the woman at the well,  welcomed the little children, healed the sick, ate with tax collectors and criticized the religious leaders who strictly maintained the social order. It is the Jesus of Palestine that we are called to follow.

Saturday, I read the executive order for myself. In it, the president orders that the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security make adjustments to ensure that “refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality” are prioritized (Section 5, subsection b). For me, this section of the order, and the statements applauding this particular measure, were the most unsettling parts of a deeply upsetting policy. In the days since, I tried to understand why this piece took my breath every time I read it. The best answer I have is that this feels like the Jesus of Constantine.

In his sermon, Bishop Abrahams cited the Council of Nicaea as a defining moment for the Church. In linking Christianity to the Roman Empire, Constantine “domesticated the Jesus of Palestine to identify with a particular culture of the day”, and “the church seduced by the political power endorsed the status quo.” Rather than earnestly bucking empire and caring for the weak, the Church became a part of the structure of the empire. Wars were waged in its name, and its power was used against the weak rather than to aid them. Unfortunately,” history is littered with examples of the church identifying with the Jesus of Constantine seeking to build its own empire”. Time and time again, the Church has chosen to align itself with the Jesus of Constantine, a decision that at its root betrays the life and example of Jesus Christ.

Section 5b of this Executive Order was issued in the name of Jesus of Constantine. As such, the entirety of the order challenges the Jesus of Palestine. It necessitates an evaluation of how we can live the parable of the good samaritan or adhere to Matthew 25:35. How do we view Jesus’ commandments to love your neighbor? It requires us to choose. It is likely that the coming years will continuously test our allegiance – that Christians will have to regularly determine whether they will stand with the Jesus of Constantine or the Jesus of Palestine. My prayer is that the Church will boldly and firmly preach the Jesus of Palestine, in this and every time.  That we will consistently and loudly proclaim a gospel that comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. That we not only preach about caring for the weak and vulnerable, but evaluate what that means in our own lives and then care for the weak and vulnerable. That we will lift our voices on behalf of those who do not have a seat at the table. That we will decline to blindly validate empire, that we will not allow ourselves to be used as a weapon against the marginalized. That we will search for the heart of Jesus and boldly proclaim it.

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