What would the politics of Jesus say to the crisis in Iraq over the ISIS advance through Nineveh?
I have already pointed out the relevance of the Book of Revelation (here). On further reflection I want to suggest a 'political hermeneutic' for reading the New Testament.
There are ordinary times when ordinary wisdom, instruction and principles apply. The obvious contrast to Revelation is Romans 13 where Paul takes a benign view of state power and instructs Christians to go along with it, submit to its authority and generally live sensible yet compassionate lives within civic society.
Then there are extraordinary times when the rules of Christian life go out the window. Even Jesus in the last moments of his life told his disciples to find swords! It is simply impossible to treat ISIS as it imposes its murderous thuggery on the people of Nineveh as a fledgling new state as an authority appointed by God. That is not to say that some licence is then given for those opposed to ISIS to take up arms themselves (I am not arguing for or against that here and now.) But the instruction of Jesus seems to be at least to flee (see the verse prior to this coming Sunday's gospel reading, Matthew 10:23).
In terms of Revelation such forces are expressions of the angel of death sweeping across the face of the earth and, to mix metaphors, the beast arising out of the sea.
Of course this hermeneutic is not without its problems. Who is to judge when we live in ordinary times and when we live in extraordinary times? Though we might at least recognise that if we can go to bed at night without fear of the police (or 'police') knocking on our doors in order to drag us out into the street to kill us then we might just be in an ordinary situation.
Further, there is an important analysis of Revelation which says that it is an extraordinary book for ordinary times in the sense that it is an unveiling of the dark malign reality of the apparently benign state. The Roman Empire both guaranteed peace on its roads and seaways even as it imposed idolatry on Jews and Christians. In our day, we could say, with Revelation in mind, capitalism both provides a means of income and imposes the idolatry of materialism on its citizens.
Yet the whole of Revelation goes beyond such analysis. Its visions go beyond the pressure of idolatrous Rome on Asia Minor congregations. It foresees days of terror, of death and destruction beyond the possibilities of Christians being squeezed out of participation in ordinary civic life. For such days it does not envisage the renewal of something like 'ordinary' life. It looks beyond death to new life, beyond pain to healing, and beyond evil to pure goodness.
It is a book for extraordinary times. Meanwhile I need to take a car to the garage to conform to state requirements for a Warrant of Fitness and make some effort to get this year's taxes sorted out!