Timothy McNinch is Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, IN and a doctoral candidate in Hebrew Bible at Emory University. He is Series Editor for “The Politics of Scripture” blog on the Political Theology Network, and co-hosts “First Reading: the Old Testament Lectionary Podcast” (firstreadingpodcast.com). His CV and more are available at his personal website, timothymcninch.com.
Whatever our exegesis of scripture and tradition may suggest, it is imperative that we take into account the pain and damage our religious piety causes to others. Is our perception of divine instruction sufficient justification for actual injury (physical, psychological, and/or spiritual) to our neighbors?
While the Judahites were the recipients of physical violence, they only had the power to return rhetorical, fantasized violence. They were forced to entrust actual retribution to other powers: to God, and perhaps to the Persians (envisioned as God’s agents).
For those who experience a divine compulsion to publicly resist the perversions of the powerful, despite their own hesitations and fears, Jeremiah may be an encouraging witness to the potential for an experience of divine presence alongside the pain.
The politician David’s apology may communicate genuine remorse, an intention to make amends, or his acceptance of the consequences of his actions. Or, it may be a word-smithed damage control statement, calculated to admit as little as possible and move the news cycle beyond the scandal.
For all our show of humility, Christians have capitalized on the doctrine of election, distorting it to create a very real power differential between ourselves and the world beyond Christianity, at home and abroad. In an ironic twist, we have become the builders who are rejecting precious stones.
This Advent, we are in desperate need of both prophetic voices and prophetic imaginations. Voices to put our politicians in their place and imaginations to help us recognize the shape of God’s hesed in the midst of personal and global trauma.
When we read of God enthroned as the great king, perhaps we can imagine a system of governance where our political rivals are not beaten into submission, but are disarmed by love; where those who are different from us are respected, listened to, learned from; where brute force is neutralized by a refusal to retaliate and is resisted through active non-violence. Toward this end, God is indeed the great leader, the one who models “power under” for all of us.
We need to recognize that whether we like it or not, the global community is in this crisis together. Our survival depends on learning to share the abundance we have—our natural and financial resources, as well as scientific expertise and creativity—in the fight to combat climate change.
Matthew’s careful quotation of Isaiah 60 urges us to perceive that the birth of the poor, brown boy in a back corner of the Roman empire was the dawning of God’s glory upon humanity. Let us, then, celebrate—not with fear and self-preservation, but with confident investment in human flourishing.
The innate ambiguity of the political themes raised by this week’s first lectionary text should lead us to hold together both our desire for cohesion as the “people of God” and that same desire’s potential for exclusion—exclusion that we must diligently recognize and actively hold in check.