The Gospel of Mark begins in possibly the most dramatic fashion imaginable if only we have the eyes to see it.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…
That very familiar word — “gospel” — was not so common two thousand years ago when St. Mark wrote it. The English word “gospel” comes from the Greek word euangelion, which literally translates to “good message” or “good news.” In its original context this word was applied to the messages of Caesar, which would be proclaimed throughout the whole of the Roman Empire of the many victories and accomplishments of his reign. This is the same Caesar and Roman Empire that aggressively conquered her neighbors and enslaved them, frequently practiced abortion and infanticide, and subdued rebellions with public humiliation and executions. So, when Mark the Evangelist begins his account of Christ’s life and message by calling it a “gospel”, he is in a sense committing a supreme act of rebellion by speaking of Christ’s gospel as opposed to Caeser’s. The same thing holds true for calling Jesus “Lord” or “kurios” because it was Caesar who was “Lord” — Kaiser Kurios — and not some poor Jew on the peripheries of his empire.
But what has all of this to do with politics? It has everything to do with politics. Christ’s entrance into the world and all that followed in his wake as a result has had the effect of turning the world on its head, or, rather, finally putting the world on its feet. What Christ proclaimed was the message — among other things — that God is supreme and man is not. God alone, who comes to us as Jesus Christ the Lord, is to be worshipped, which means that no other can claim this of any man, woman, or child. To say that Christ alone is Lord is to say that Caesar (the King, or even the President) is not.
At this point it would be easy to conclude that Christians, as a result, are anarchists of the most extreme kind. But even this conclusion must be judged as false. The Jesus who is murdered unjustly through the Roman “justice” system is the same Jesus who tells his followers to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mk 12:17). So, what are we to make of all of this? Political order as political order is a good and, as Christians, we ought to be faithful members of our political body. We ought not to curse it by placing an anathema upon it or incite a violent rebellion as a Church. However, what this also means is that we have the sobering recognition that no political leader — no matter how charismatic or inspiring — is Kurios, is Lord.
Political leaders are not divine, and, so, as Christians we ought not to give them our obedience of faith, which truly belongs to God alone through the mediation of his Church. We ought not to place all of our hope and trust in them because our hope is in God alone whom we await to come with his angels to render judgment upon the nations. Instead, we should develop a clear-headed appreciation for the good qualities, motives, and virtues that any given political leader may possess while always being quick to recognize their short-comings. I think that perhaps the greatest good to come from this election cycle is precisely this awareness of the extreme humanity and fallenness of our presidential candidates.
To say that Christ alone is Lord is to say that Caesar (the King, or even the President) is not. It is indeed true that Christ is Lord and a President Trump or Clinton is not; however, Christ does tell us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute you. In these last few days before our presidential election our country can use more prayers and less cursing. In following these commands of Christ we will imitate the Church of the first few centuries who lived under severe persecution from their political leaders, which often resulted in martyrdom. The key point here, though, is that a martyred Church does not become a cynical and despairing Church. It is one thing to withdraw from the public square (a move that I do not support but understand) to focus more intensely on developing stronger local communities. It is another thing to withdraw from the political sphere to create a closed-off sectarian Church that identifies itself over and against the wider national community, giving up a whole country to Satan and his machinations.
So, what are we to do? Repent, believe in the Gospel, love God, love your family and neighbor, pray, vote, and continue to practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy while engaging in constructive political discourse with those with whom you have contact. But, do not despair and do not act like one who has no hope. I, personally, refuse to believe that even our impending future will be dictated by anyone other than Christ the King.