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Do you really think “culture wars” are new? Far from it! Jesus lived in the midst of culture wars! The Acts of the Apostles are a record of how first-century Christians coped with their own culture wars.

In this Vincentian Mindwalk I invite you to look at the realities of those days. Jesus’ response should challenge us in the midst of our culture wars.

Jesus was born into culture wars

Jesus was born at the height of the Roman Empire’s power.

Rome

would install a client king (a puppet government) and exact tribute (cash) in lots of different ways. Families were charged taxes per person—farmers on crops, fishermen on catches, and travelers were charged fees to use the roads. This was in addition to local business and religious taxes charged by priests.

In Israel, political and religious factions were one and the same. Back then, it was Pharisees and Sadducees.

The Pharisees

were the most religiously conservative leaders. They had the most influence among the common working poor, who were the majority. They believed that a king would come one day to conquer Rome with violence and free their nation from laws that were designed to force the working poor into a posture of subjugation.

The Sadducees…

were wealthy aristocrats who had a vested financial interest in Roman rule. They were in charge of the temple, and they didn’t believe any savior king was coming. They made themselves wealthy by exacting unfair taxes and fees from the labor of their own people and by contriving money-making schemes that forced the poor to pay exorbitant prices to participate in temple sacrifice—a critical part of their religion.

Two other groups

The Zealots hid in the hills and violently resisted Roman occupation. The Samaritans were often oppressed and marginalized because of their racial and ethnic identities.

Overbearing religious leaders who despised and oppressed them, wealthy elites who ripped them off, racial and ethnic tension with neighbors, and sporadic violent outbreaks between an oppressive occupying army

Jesus by-passes these culture wars

So where was Jesus in all of this?

Did he align with the religious elites? With the wealthy and powerful? Or did he start an uprising to overthrow them?

None of the above.

He simply went from town to town exemplifying a different way to change the world. Instead of pursuing power, money, or religious authority, he shared a loving and sacrificially generous way of living after the manner of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

He chose not to go along with the schemes others used to impact the world. Instead, he championed a better way.

And so, each of these political groups saw him as a threat.

The Pharisees recognized his movement as an affront to their authority—exposing the hypocrisy of their practices. The Sadducees saw Jesus as a threat to their power and wealth because he exposed their money-making schemes. The Zealots violently rejected one of the essential themes of Jesus’ movement: love your enemy.

In the end, it took all three of these groups to have him killed.

Isn’t it funny how political foes can come together to destroy a common enemy that threatens their designs?

But in spite of their best efforts, his execution was only the beginning of a movement that continues to impact the world thousands of years later. Jesus’ movement was so impactful because he actively resisted and rejected participating in culture-war politics.

Lessons for today

  • Who, in your mind, are the Romans,  Pharisees, Sadducees, and Zealots of today?
  • Can you quietly live and love as Jesus did?

[This reflection is rooted in material from the series He gets us!, a site designed to help people think more deeply about Jesus. More about this project in another Mindwalk.]

Click below for an early version of this Vincentian Mindwalk

Jesus and the Culture Wars of Today