VIDEO & TEXT – The Church and the Polis / Politics. A meditation for a week (John 17:11-19) [27 May 2020]

Christ among the Doctors, c. 1560, by Paolo Veronese, Public Domain,
Christ among the Doctors, c. 1560, by Paolo Veronese, Public Domain,

When we speak about the Church’s involvement in politics, the spirits are very hot on both sides: on the part of those who want the Church involved in politics and on the part of those who do not want the Church involved in politics. I don’t want to be another one shaking the wasp’s nest, talking about this subject. It is not a phenomenon specific only to countries where the Church is an established institution, how it is in UK. It’s the same everywhere. The subject has returned very hot in the last two weeks, after a period of apparent calm last winter.

Reading newspapers, following reactions to articles that had less or greater connection to the Church, browsing through myriads of opinions expressed social media, it was obvious to me that the debate is as current as it can be. But what can the subject have to do with the gospel passage proposed for meditation? Let’s pay a little attention to a key verse in the text: ”As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18).

We know that chapter 17 of the Gospel according to John is also called the Farewell Prayer or High Priestly Prayer. The context is that of the Last Supper, when Jesus prepares his disciples for the events to come. Towards the end of his speech, he prays for his disciples. He was acting as an intercessor. But we have to keep in mind one very important thing. He prays that his disciples be protected in the world, where he sends them as he was sent by the Father.

Why was he sent by the Father? The answers can be many and varied and all true. But let’s merge them into one. He came to save the world. Or maybe some prefer to say that he came to transform the world. When we say this we mean all the realities of our lives. And we agree that the focus is on the relationships between us, as individuals and as community. And we know that what Jesus did, what he learned was about it. Of course we must not forget our relationships with creation, nature. So we strongly agree that it is obvious that his teaching, all his actions were oriented towards our lives as human beings. And we, human beings live in communities, organized in villages, cities and so on. The antic Greeks called the communities organized around an urban centre polis. It was generally a fortress with all its outbuildings, including the surrounding villages. What they called politics was the debate over the problems of the polis. And the responsible citizens were proud to engage in those debates, to do politics. Everything was regulated by those debates, all interpersonal relations in that polis. A few seconds ago, we just understood that the life of Jesus, his teaching is aimed at transforming interpersonal relationships, personal life and with others. He clearly says that this is why he was sent by his Father and that is why he sends his disciples. An we read in the Gospel that Jesus stood for those for who nobody stood. Obviously he sent his disciples for that. And here it follows another extremely important word in Jesus’ prayer: truth (John 17:17). I think we agree that the truth needs to be told in the affairs of the polis, society, in politics.

Many might point the finger at the mistakes of the Church in the past or even in the present. Like it or not, they’re right. But who said that the Church on earth is perfect? It is a society of those who believe, in a continuous effort to follow the teaching and example of Jesus. The Church is made up of those who believe in Jesus’ teaching, who are not perfect. Its mission is to be where the truth is needed. That is where the disciples are sent. They need to be concerned with the problems of society, and therefore politics. This is their mission. They need to change the way politics is done through the truth and example received from their teacher. It is about the values ​​that the disciples propose, that they defend.

But in the end, not to go into too much detail, what was the focus of Jesus’ concern? The rights of the person in relations with the other. That’s what politics does. Does it seem to anyone that today’s politics and politicians are perfect and that they no longer need to be reminded of the truth? We are not perfect, politicians and politics are not perfect, which is why we must always pay attention to the fundamental values ​​and rights of the person. We must always remember them. The Church has to stand for them when they are forgotten.

Yes, the Church as an institution must not pursue partisan politics of one colour or another. The Church must do politics following the example of Christ. It must uphold politics and politicians who uphold the values ​​of truthful teaching and openly condemn those politics and politicians who deny values ​​and human rights or disregard creation as a gift for all.

Of course, following this topic, we can continue with the way in which an individual member of the Church must engage in politics. But this, hopefully, on another occasion.

(Revd. Bernard Noghiu – Southend on Sea, 26th of May 2020).

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