Jesus Goes To Washington


Jesus Goes To Washington
Brian Zahnd

In anticipation of Pope Francis addressing Congress on Thursday, I was reminded of a thought experiment I pose in A Farewell To Mars. What If Jesus addressed Congress?

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Many American Christians are fond of describing the United States as a “Christian nation”—which would mean a Christlike nation. With that in mind, here’s a wild thought experiment:

Imagine if Jesus went to Washington D.C. Imagine that he is invited to give a speech to a joint session of Congress. (He’s Jesus after all, and I’m sure the senators and congressmen would be delighted to hear a speech from the founder of the world’s largest religion — if nothing else it would confer some dignity upon their institution.) Imagine that the speech Jesus gives is his most famous sermon — the Sermon on the Mount. Can you imagine it?

Jesus is introduced. (Standing ovation.) He stands before Congress and begins to deliver his speech. “Blessed are the poor…the mourners…the meek.” “Love your enemies.” “Turn the other cheek.” After a few perfunctory applauses early on, I’m pretty sure there would be a lot of squirming senators and uncomfortable congressmen. The room would sink into a tense silence. And when Jesus concluded his speech with a prophecy of the inevitable fall of the house that would not act upon his words (Matthew 7:26–27), what would Congress do? Nothing. They would not act. They could not act.

To act on Jesus’ words would undo their system. The Sermon on the Mount doesn’t work in Cain’s system — no matter how noble or sophisticated. In the end, the U.S. Congress would no more adopt the policies Jesus set out in the Sermon on the Mount than they were adopted by the Jewish Sanhedrin or the Roman Senate. The Jesus way and conventional power politics don’t mix. So we tell Jesus to mind his own business — to go back to church and “saving souls” and not to meddle in the real affairs of running the world. We sequester Jesus to a stained-glass quarantine and appropriate a trillion dollars for the war machine.

This begs the question of why Christians get so worked up over which side has the most representatives in Congress, when the entire system is incapable of implementing what Jesus taught?! Do you see what I mean? It’s hard to believe in Jesus! To believe in Jesus fully; to believe in Jesus as more than a personal savior; to believe in Jesus without qualifications; to believe in Jesus as God’s way to run the world; to believe in Jesus and his Sermon on the Mount; to believe in Jesus as the unimagined solution for a world gone wrong, and not as merely chaplain or cheerleader for our favorite version of the status quo — is very hard to do. It’s as hard as taking up our cross and actually following Jesus. Believing in a Mars-like Messiah is easy. Believing in the Prince of Peace is hard.


(The artwork is Pilate Washes His Hands by Duccio, 1311.)