As our new President journeyed to Washington D.C. and to his inauguration I have thought often of Jesus. There are similarities between them. Both came from relative obscurity and quickly rose to prominence. Both inspired crowds of people with soaring rhetoric and engaging presence among people. Both connected in ways unlike most other leaders. Both led a movement that enlivened ordinary folks with hope. Both made people think a new day had come.
Both journeyed to the capital to fulfill their destinies. Both were greeted with joyful welcome. Both entered the city in ways that gathered up and re-energized a storied but threatened heritage—Jesus recharged a long but tired expectation of Kingdom-come while President Obama has embodied the dream that most embraced (at least in public) but feared might never quite come true. Both made people think that maybe this time it’s for real. Both went to the city at a time when the world really needed the good news their arrival signaled.
Of course, President Obama is not the Messiah. And, of course, much of the wild enthusiasm that attends his presidency (which, remember, has hardly begun!) is likely misplaced. Despite the enormous, even cosmic, differences between them, still I’m quite sure we will look back and see that both disappointed their most enthused partisans. And, I’m fervently hoping we will also look back and see that both made good on their promises precisely through that disappointment. Let me explain.
Jesus disappointed by staying true to his Father’s kingdom-way, which is not of this world. He disappointed by insisting that serving self (whether the individual or corporate self) and seeking to save self leads only to disaster. He insisted that “pouring out” or “losing” self leads to kingdom-dream-come-true or “salvation.” Then he led his followers to the place of death which turns out also to be the place of resurrection.
I hope and pray that President Obama will pursue Jesus’ way as he leads our nation; that he will call us to lose ourselves for the sake of others, to lay down our lives in love even for our enemies, to champion the causes that God so clearly champions in the Scriptures. I believe there are ways a nation can do such things. I hope and pray our President will lead the U.S. to reflect the values of a kingdom-not-of-this-world.
Two things make me optimistic so far. First, President Obama has already acted in ways that make a lot of people from all sides of the ideological divide mad (e.g., he included religious leaders in the inaugural events from polar opposites of the spectrum). That is, he demonstrates so far a freedom from party ideology. Second, he has spoken some hard truth that nobody wants to hear (e.g., it will get worse—perhaps much worse—before it gets better).
Christ-followers do not have the option of being cynical or even negative. We have the calling to pray, to remain people of hope, to speak good whenever possible, to disagree graciously, and to lean into a future that may lead to a cross in the short term, but eventually will lead to resurrection. A kingdom people do their citizenship in the light of Easter.