i am about to embark on leading a study (with other people) based upon the book the politics of jesus, and i figured it would be good to get my thoughts down here as i go along. there will be many more of these entries to come (may that be a warning).
in luke chapter 1 and 2, luke introduces us to john the baptist’s (henceforth referred to as jtb) parents, who are “advanced in years”, are faithful and diligent in their worship of God, and have no children. this story is repeated over and over again in the old testament, and here it is of no less significance. if you consider the other notable sons of barrenness (isaac, jacob and esau, samson, samuel), you get a glimpse at not only the importance of a son, but how important these sons were. the story of hannah, samuel’s mother, is a good parallel to the story in luke 1 and 2. i’ll start there.
hannah’s husband had another wife who had loads of kids, but he loved her more. it seems that this love for her was not enough to calm her anxiety over having no son (“am i not more to you than ten sons?”). so, she decides to pour out her heart before God in the temple at shiloh in the site of eli, the priest. mistaking her for a drunkard, he reprimands her for her improper behavior. but the fact is that she has neither eaten or drunk anything as a result of her anxiety, which she expresses to eli: “do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along i have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” eli, in a prophetic mood, responds saying that her prayers have been answered by the Lord.
hannah named her son, who she conceived “in due time”, samuel, which means heard of God. she dedicated him to the temple to serve God his whole life, as she had promised she would do in her prayers. he would eventually become a prophet who would warn israel of the dangers of taking a human king to rule over them instead of God.
zechariah, jtb’s dad, was a priest serving his time in the temple when he was confronted by an angel. the angel informed him “your prayer has been heard, and your wife elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name john.” because zechariah couldn’t believe this message due to his old age, he was rendered mute until the birth of jtb. elizabeth hid herself, and her thoughts, saying “thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked upon me, to take away my reproach among people.”
this reproach is deep-seated and deeply felt in the arab/israeli culture, where having children is not only a duty, but a gift from God. if one does not have children (like myself), they are constantly asked what the problem is, why they don’t want children, and the lack of children is seen as a sign of affliction. elizabeth and zechariah, like hannah, have been heard.
the real parallels, however, lie in the political and social situation in which these two children were born. hannah’s prayer, after dedicating samuel in the temple, is one of socio-political expectation of renewal. she prays,
“the bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. the barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn… he raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.”
this is a political prayer, one that envisions an upside down renewal of all things, where the poor and the needy inherit kingdoms. sound familiar?
when jtb was born, zechariah’s mouth opened and he was able to speak. in fact, he began to prophesy about jtb. he prayed:
“blessed be the Lord, God of israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant david, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies (rome) and from the hand of all who hate us… and you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation (from enemies) to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
how interesting, that these children of barrenness would change the world through prophetic revelation. not only that, but their parents seemed to envision a new world where the afflicted are saved from the hands of their enemies, because that is what God has always promised. it wasn’t a spiritual renewal they foresaw, it was a socio-political reformation in the name of God. this turbulent, roman occupied world is the world into which jesus was born, raised, and preached his message of political, social, and spiritual rebirth and renewal. a new kingdom is near, one that zechariah envisioned would ultimately be in “the way of peace”.