Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why Jesus? Wouldn’t the political teachings of Paris Hilton be a better seller? Tod Lindberg: The political teachings of Paris Hilton are kind of the problem: Live for personal pleasure, pursue the acclaim of the crowd. People don’t need a book to tell them to do that; it comes naturally. What Jesus had to say about how to live in the world, unmatched before or since in both profundity and influence, describes how to build a society on different and better principles.
We need to try to better understand what Jesus had to say for its own sake, as well as to fulfill the second part of the injunction Jesus embraces for inheriting eternal life: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. The Sermon on the Mount and the parables are, among other things, an elaboration on what it means to love your neighbor. I wanted to try to draw out the social and political implications of his elaboration on that theme.
Lopez: What’s the political message of Jesus Christ? Can you see it on Hardball any given night? Lindberg: Jesus knew how to play hardball. Ask the moneychangers at the Temple.
His political message is that a community of goodwill, in which people treat one another the way they themselves would like to be treated — in accordance with the Golden Rule — is in principle within human reach. People who hunger and thirst for righteousness, Jesus says in the Beatitudes, will be satisfied. Acting in accordance with his teachings, they have the power and freedom to find righteousness for themselves by recognizing and acting on the same yearning in others.
Jesus proposes a social or political order based not on the rule of the strong and the deference of the weak, but on the principle of equality in freedom. People create such a community whenever someone reaches out in neighborliness or brotherhood and is answered in kind.
The this-worldly advantages of living in such a community exceed the advantage even the strongest earthly king can enjoy. And people understand this, or at least they can once they start taking in the message of Jesus. That points to a circle of neighborliness or brotherhood that is expanding outward by voluntary consent even to those who once were enemies. In principle, it’s universal. True, people being who they are, there’s reason to be skeptical about the universal this-worldly extension of this community of goodwill. But Jesus says it’s worthwhile to keep trying to reach out.
Lopez: Jesus was a progressive? I thought Jesus was a conservative and Santa a lib?