In 1876, Western Union had a monopoly on the most advanced communication technology available: the telegraph. The President of Western Union, William Orten, was offered a chance to buy the patent on a new invention that was called a telephone. For the price of $100,000 (about $2 million in today’s terms) he could have owned the patent on the telephone and controlled the technology and development. Instead, he wrote to Alexander Graham Bell, “After careful consideration of your invention, while it is a very interesting novelty, we have come to the conclusion that it has no commercial possibilities… What use could this company make of an electrical toy?” Two years later, after the telephone began to take off, Orten realized the magnitude of his mistake, and spent years (unsuccessfully) challenging Bell’s patents.
I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time to reject this newfangled invention, but Orten realized too late that he had messed up. In ancient Israel, the people longed to overthrow the Romans. They hated anyone ruling over them, and they especially hated the oppression of the Romans. So, anyone with a little charisma would be able to whip the crowd into a frenzy and start a revolution. A revolution that seemed like a good idea at the time. A short-lived revolution that usually ended in crucifixion. As Jesus began proclaiming the freedom found in a relationship with God, those desiring political freedom gravitated towards Him. It soon became obvious to Jesus that many, upon hearing of the Kingdom of God, thought of an earthly kingdom and not a heavenly kingdom. Jesus, recognizing a bad idea, discouraged that kind of thinking, and pulled away from people like that. “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (John 6:15)
Jesus came with the whole package for those who wanted a political revolution. He taught a populist message. The religious establishment didn’t like what He had to say, but then again, they were too willing to accept the status quo of the Romans. He talked about the power and love of God for regular folks. He talked about living in the Kingdom of God – and all those revolutionaries were sure that Jesus meant a political revolution when He said that the Kingdom was here, now. It seemed like a good idea to make Jesus king, force Him to lead the revolution if necessary. Jesus knew that it was a bad idea. He also knew that His message was more powerful than an earthly kingdom. His message was designed to change hearts, not political leaders. His message was designed to bring forgiveness, and thus freedom from sin, not chain people to another political system.
The message of Jesus transcends politics. Jesus has never promoted an “Us vs Them” ideology. Among His disciples were tax collectors and revolutionaries. He had friends among the religious elite and the worst sinners. Many have tried to appropriate Him and make Him their own exclusive property whether among the religious or the political. It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but, to recall C. S. Lewis, Jesus is not a tame lion who will do our bidding or be controlled by any person or idea. If we want to follow Jesus, we do it on His terms. It seems like a good idea to invite Jesus along on our journeys to provide protection and leadership. Jesus isn’t a good luck charm that will make our desires work out with no problems. The truth is, Jesus invites us to join Him in being and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. If we want to follow Jesus, the only good idea is to do it His way.
Lord, I repent of the times I tried to make You do things my way. Change my heart and guide me to live life under Your Lordship.