Thursday, January 8, 2015

Civil Disobedience and the Wise Men

I read a blog post this morning by Craig Greenfield in which he suggested that the Wise Men from the East performed the first act of Civil Disobedience recorded in the Gospels.  I have always believed that Jesus often lived his faith in acts of Civil Disobedience, but as often as I have read the story of the Wise Men not going back to Herod but “returning to their country by another route,” I was always lost in the manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles and did not think much about their ignoring an unjust law from the Earthly Ruler of Israel of that day.  Disobeying the order of a king in cases like this is a major offense and could have resulted in the death of the Magi, in which case we would have a very different story than we do today.  

 The Magi chose to obey the law of God received in their dream rather than the human law given to them by the king.  In breaking the king’s law, they saved the life of the infant Jesus.  Depending on how historically true this story is, he King may have killed hundreds of other infants, an important issue, but another discussion.  This aspect of the Magi’s visit adds to the importance and power of this story.

In Jesus’ day the selling of animals in the temple and the exchanging of money was legal and it was unlawful for a Jewish man to talk to a Samaritan woman.  Jesus broke both of these laws and more. The point is that as God’s people, the law is not our ultimate moral guide.  As Saint Augustine said, “an unjust law is no law at all.” Just a few examples of unjust laws: slavery was legal as was segregation, and homosexual relations were illegal.   

When we practice Civil Disobedience there are consequences and we must be willing to face them.  Martin Luther King, Jr. spent a great deal of time in jail; Rosa Parks was removed from the Montgomery, Alabama bus.  Clergy Persons and others have lost their jobs for standing up for the rights of Gay people and for protesting Wars considered by many to be unjust and immoral,  even if legal. 

I do not believe Jesus calls us to break laws just to break them, but I do believe He calls us to live as the prophet Micah preaches, by “loving mercy, doing justice and walking humbly with our God.”  This life style may well lead us into conflict with “the powers that be.” 

As Greenfield states, “simply put, the law does not dictate our ethics. God does.  So it should not surprise us that the one we follow was executed as a criminal and that there will be times we are called to break unjust laws.”   

We who follow Jesus Christ cannot do so without coming into conflict with the powers and principalities of this world.

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