Was Jesus a Model Citizen?

Last Thursday I saw this headline and it gave me pause: “Michelle Obama cites Jesus as model for citizenship.” The first pause deals with any celebrity “citing Jesus” in public. It makes me cringe because I’ve found that three out of four times what is cited is not exactly what the Bible says about Jesus. A second pause is the relation of the words “Jesus” and “model citizen.” It’s not everyday when Jesus is used as a model for citizenship. Then I read the article and realized something: the headline doesn’t accurately portray what the First Lady said. Here’s the first few “graphs” of the article.

Michelle Obama cites Jesus as model for citizenship

By Devin Dwyer | ABC OTUS News – Fri, Jun 29, 2012

First lady Michelle Obama Thursday offered a rare public reflection on her religious faith, telling a conference of the African Methodist Episcopal church that the life of Jesus Christ is a model for democratic organizing.

“It’s kind of like church,” Obama said. “Our faith journey isn’t just about showing up on Sunday for a good sermon and good music and a good meal. It’s about what we do Monday through Saturday as well, especially in those quiet moments, when the spotlight’s not on us, and we’re making those daily choices about how to live our lives.

“We see that in the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t limit his ministry to the four walls of the church,” she said. “He was out there fighting injustice and speaking truth to power every single day. He was out there spreading a message of grace and redemption to the least, the last, and the lost. And our charge is to find Him everywhere, every day by how we live our lives.”

Obama, who is not a regular churchgoer, said citizenship like the practice of faith is “not a once-a-week kind of deal.”

“Democracy is also an everyday activity,” she said. “And being an engaged citizen should once again be a daily part of our lives.”

The First Lady said several good things in her quoted statements. Being a good citizen means supporting civic interests at all times and not just during election seasons. Being a faithful Christian means supporting the causes of Christ during all days and not just Sunday mornings. And not just in public but in private, as well. Good points. She said Jesus didn’t just limit His ministry to church (which didn’t exist until after his time on earth was done, but we’ll just substitute “synagogue” instead). He was public in His ministry, fighting injustice when He saw it (Jn. 2:13-17) and speaking truth, even to Pontius Pilate, who had the power to execute Him (Jn. 19). He was out spreading the message of grace and redemption (I love that she said this!). The part about our charge to find Jesus every day by daily living is a bit odd but her basic analysis of Jesus is actually quite accurate.

Was Jesus a “model citizen”? Yes, He was. And yet He turned society on its head. At least, Jesus was a model citizen in the eyes of Rome. Of course, most of the Jewish religious leaders thought otherwise. They saw Jesus as a law breaker and rebel, a blasphemer and political threat. But when it came time to arrest Jesus, the religious leaders could not find a charge that stuck. So they fabricated charges (Matt 26:59-60) and rigged a trial to put Him away (Jn 18:19-21).

Here’s what we know about Jesus from the Gospels:

  • He was born to a Jewish woman living in a Jewish religious and cultural society (Luke 1, Matt. 1). He was raised as a Jew (Luke 2:41).
  • He attended synagogue services not only in His hometown but also in other cities (Matt 13:54, Mark 1:21, Luke 4:16).
  • He went to Jerusalem to celebrate the required feasts (Matt 26:17-19; Jn. 2:13).
  • He was living in a society that was administered by Rome, a pagan empire that barely tolerated Judaism. Rome required taxes from the Jewish people and were the “police force” of the society.
  • He advised paying taxes to Rome if Rome required it (Matt 22:17-21).
  • He paid His taxes (sometimes using miraculous means, Matt 17:24-27).
  • When it came to finding any charge against Him, the Roman governor could not accuse Him (Jn. 18:38 & 19:4,6). Pilate washed his hands as a sign of Jesus’ civic innocence (Matt 27:24).

Again, I cringe whenever anyone in the public spotlight compares something to Jesus (unless it’s Billy Graham). But the fact that Jesus stood against injustice and preached grace and redemption every day and not just on Saturdays (Sundays) is a good model to follow in our daily lives. Being a disciple of Jesus means following Him in word and deed.