In a thought provoking op-ed article in The New York Times (October 27, 2015), David Brooks asks what ‘A Sensible Version of Donald Trump’ might ‘sound like’. He asks the question because Donald Trump, like Dr. Ben Carson, has not come out of the typical party-political ranks, but has caught the attention of a not insignificant number of people because he is a political ‘outsider’.
David Brooks paints an idealized portrait of what a president who is ‘some former general or business leader with impeccable outsider status but also a steady temperament, deep knowledge and good sense’ might do. While there is applause for the Brooks op-ed article, responses indicate it could never happen.
JESUS THE ‘OUTSIDER’
My purpose in touching on David Brooks’ piece, is not to engage in political discussion, but to discuss what another ‘outsider’ in history taught and did. I am speaking of Jesus of Nazareth and the legacy he left his people and the world.
With the opening words of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus knew he could be accused of changing the meaning of the law of Moses and developing a ‘new speak’ concerning the commandments of God. Indeed, those nice sounding Beatitudes (Blessings) seemed to be setting out very new ways of expressing our relationship with God and with one another. In the eyes of the religious establishment he was in every way ‘an outsider’.
Consider what Jesus says to anyone who would follow him. He expects our lives to undergo radical changes, counter to the values and practices of the culture. Instead of thinking we can contribute to our relationship with God, we need to feel our poverty before his awesome holiness. Instead of being indifferent towards unbelievers, we need to feel the pain for a world that mocks the very idea of God. Instead of engaging in the power play and plotting of the world to achieve our goals, we should walk the tougher path of humility and service.
Furthermore, Jesus calls on us to ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness’, to ‘show mercy’, ‘pursue purity’, and to ‘work for peace’. Knowing that life won’t always be easy for his followers, Jesus urges us to stay firm in our faith and persevere. ‘It will be worth every bit of it’, he says. ‘And understand this,’ he continues, ‘You are the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’ (Matthew 5:1-16).
In the 16th century Reformation, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and those around him were part of a movement rediscovering the unique authority of the Bible and its clarity concerning Jesus’ teaching, life, death and resurrection. The changes they initiated re-formed what had been a de-formed church and had an outcome for good in the church and the wider society.
Historians today refer to Cranmer and those around him as ‘evangelicals’. They were men and women of faith who were committed to the priority of the ministry of God’s gospel and growing God’s people in their walk with him.
At the end of the 18th century and at the beginning of the 19th, William Wilberforce and Ashley Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury, initiated anti-slavery laws in England, and facilitated education programs and better conditions for the poor.
The starting point for all of them was a healthy awareness of a good and merciful God, and a personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Today, the voice of the most significant ‘outsider’ in history is scorned if not simply dismissed.
Here then is our challenge. We need to encourage one another to bring God’s truth back into the conversation. We need to equip one another to answer questions people ask about the present woes and the larger issues of life. I have found the Book of Ecclesiastes is a helpful starting point to do this.
Let me urge you to take to heart Jesus’ Beatitudes. Own afresh his words that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We can’t do this in our own strength. We need to pray for his mercy and courage to live out our calling. More than ever our world needs to hear of God’s extraordinary love and compassion. The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers… (Luke 10:2).