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BY BILL MEFFORD

February 9, 2020


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He may have been at a prayer breakfast, but he didn't look like Jesus.
The day after the State of the Union, and even after Fox and Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade angrily denounced religion being used as a political weapon, Unhyphenated America Executive Director and “staunch Christian Constitutional Conservative” Christopher Harris announced that, “Listen, I would argue that it's probably three of the greatest years since maybe Jesus walked the Earth with his ministry.” - from The Week
“Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation.’” - Matthew 2:17-18a
If you are like me, your jaw dropped when you read or saw Harris’ comparison between cult leader Donald Trump and Jesus. It is complete blasphemy, but this seems to be where evangelicalism is right now. Just as Scripture talks about faithfulness in little things leading to faithfulness in bigger things, the opposite is also true. Faithlessness in things like overlooking Trump’s incessant lying, making excuses for his constant racism and xenophobia, ignoring his narcissism and mental instability, and refusing to see his blatant corruption, has led to faithlessness in the big things - like substituting the Savior of the world who serves and sacrificially loves all people with an immoral white nationalist whose rhetoric is wrapped up in patriotism, but whose actions reveal concern for only himself.

Evangelicals, whose approval of Trump still hovers around the 80% mark, are losing their souls.
 
But the more I thought about Harris’ inane comment, the more I thought he may accidentally be on to something. There indeed might be some comparisons to draw between what has happened these last three years and the time when Jesus physically walked the earth. Though comparisons between cultural contexts are fraught with challenges, here are a few reflections from Jesus’ context where we can see some similarities, though certainly not in the way Harris intended.
 
First of all, for Jews, the first century was not a happy time. They were a conquered people and had been since 63 BCE. They lived under a dictatorship of Roman rule and were desperate to be free from foreign domination, which is why the central question of Jesus’ life and ministry was whether or not he was the Messiah, the long-expected King of the Jews. Indeed, to be free from Roman control so dominated the thoughts of most Jews in that time that Jesus’ disciples, after seeing him crucified and risen from the dead, ask him in the first chapter of the book of Acts if that's the time he's going to reestablish the Kingdom of Israel. They so longed to be free and they knew weren’t under Rome.
 
In another reflection – again being careful not to draw absolute conclusions between these two widely distinct contexts – we see in Jesus’ time a line of ruthless rulers, the Herod family, who would do anything to hold on to power.

Herod Antipas was married at the time he fell in love with the wife of his brother Phillip while on a business trip to Rome, as well as his brother’s daughter, Salome. I guess someone was focused on the family at that time. According to Jewish law, cheating on your wife, marrying your brother’s wife while he is still alive, and then lusting after your wife’s daughter are, not surprisingly, not looked favorably upon by Jewish law. The prophet John the Baptist called Herod Antipas out on it and was eventually beheaded. Yet Herod managed to help bring about a split among Jews as one group of leaders, the Sadducees, favored maintaining a good relationship with Roman leaders while the Pharisees, who were much more interested in preserving Jewish life against Roman encroachment, spent much of their time battling one another.
 
Now, does an unrepentant philanderer who manages to split the faith community’s moral witness against him sound like anyone you know?
 
One more reflection on Jesus’ time through the lens of our current Herodian wanna-be. The father of Herod Antipas, Herod the Great, was paranoid of any and all challenges to his rule, and he took extreme steps to preserve his reign by crushing any possible challenge.
 
Herod the Great even feared babies. In Matthew's account of Jesus’ birth, when the wise men came from the East to pay homage to Jesus – who they claimed was “King of the Jews” - Herod heard of this and became terrified of this clear challenge to his rule. Yes, he was afraid of a baby. He called the wise men and the religious leaders of the day to learn more of his birth and claimed that he wanted to also pay the child homage. In other words, he lied. Hmmm, remind you of anyone yet?
 
Upon learning that the wise men did not return to him after their visit to Jesus, Herod freaked. He ordered his troops to go to Bethlehem to murder all children under the age of two. Now this account is not found in any other gospel, nor is it found in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, and many biblical scholars consider it folklore. And I am not saying that Trump wants to murder infants. What this story does do, though, is show the absolute and unyielding focus Herod the Great has on maintaining his hold on power, no matter the harm he might do to people, even the most vulnerable.
 
Now, that is definitely a characteristic that we see in our current Herod. All of the Herods - the Great, Antipas, and now Trump - were obsessed with holding on to power. Just reflect on these current facts:
  • The day after Robert Mueller’s testimony, when it became clear that Trump was not going to be held accountable for his collusion with Russia and his obstruction of justice, he called Ukrainian President Zelensky and pressured him to dig up make-believe dirt on Joe Biden to help him in his reelection campaign. He could not go even a single day without committing further crimes to protect his hold on power.
  • Though Matthew’s account of the death of infants in Bethlehem is likely folklore, both Herod and Trump have shown little regard for the welfare of children, particularly when those children are not the preferred race or ethnicity. The Trump administration has caged immigrant children, separated immigrant children from their parents (with over 1,000 still separated), tried to slash the WIC program that feeds children and mothers - and he still has not apologized for calling for the death penalty for the five African American teenagers who were wrongly accused, arrested, and imprisoned for the rape of a white woman in Central Park.
Once again, comparing our time with the time when Jesus physically lived on earth is filled with challenges. However, even a cursory reflection on these two distinct eras reveals that any comparison between these two times does not produce the result that Trump’s evangelical cult followers want. Trump does not remind of us Jesus, but Herod sure does check a lot of boxes.
Pray for our Evangelical siblings who support Trump, that they might repent of this idolatry and focus their eyes on the Jesus who served and sacrificially loved others.
Holy One, we pray for our Trump-supporting siblings in Christ, that they may return to you, repent of their absolute faith in false idols, and see justice and peace for the world. Amen.
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