This week the Labour Party will start to elect its new leader and many will breathe a huge sigh of relief to think that at long last it’s nearly over. Whatever one’s political view, it’s hard to pretend that this particular Labour Contest hasn’t thrown up a few surprises. Who would have thought that Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy would have proved so popular? It’s even been dubbed Corbynmania by the press as this most left-wing of the four leadership candidates throws the election contest wide open to the astonishment of the Labour party’s political elite and former leaders. With 610,753 people registered to vote, many see Jeremy Corbyn as the new fresh voice of traditional, socialist Labour values; whereas others warn that his leadership will be a disastrous move for the Labour Party, rendering it practically unelectable as its moves away from the centre ground which proved so popular under Tony Blair and ‘New Labour’. I guess we shall just have to wait and see which of these political perspectives comes out on top, but surely Gordon Brown was right when he argued that the main thing all political parties needed to offer the electorate is hope!
One of the privileges of living in a democracy is the fact that we get a chance to say who we would like to represent us. Sometimes this process can be quite challenging, daunting and uncomfortable – ‘I would like to vote for you but I most certainly wouldn’t want to vote for you’. How do we cope when we feel that our trust has been misplaced or the person representing us doesn’t adequately share our vision? We want leaders, but only when they agree with us! It was precisely this sort of dilemma that faced people when Jesus first burst on to the scene. At first he was taken as a radical, someone who would challenge the authorities, kick against the establishment, and give power to the people. He spoke about a kingdom that was ‘breaking in’, being established before their very eyes, but not just any kingdom this was ‘the kingdom of God’! It all sounded very revolutionary, but was Jesus the king? Was he the long awaited and eagerly anticipated Messiah? “Who do people say I am?” Jesus once asked his disciples. “Some say John the Baptist; others Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets” was the general reply. Only Peter had the courage to voice what no doubt many of the others were thinking – “You are the Messiah” he said. There it was, out in the open, the Messiah was here! Well done Peter! But almost immediately hopes and dreams were turned upside down as Jesus explained that he was required to go to Jerusalem, face suffering and rejection and even death, culminating three days later in his resurrection. This was astonishingly dismal! What about all those hopes and dreams about the cleansing and restoration of the Jewish Temple; defeating the enemy (namely the Romans) who threatened and oppressed God’s people; and the long awaited longing for justice and freedom – were all these hopes and dreams to be horribly broken and terribly smashed? Surely Jesus was mistaken and Peter rebukes him. It was unthinkable that the long awaited Messiah and King should face suffering, rejection and death. The problem was then (as it is today) that so many people want a leader, but not a leader like that! Not one who was so completely at odds with their long held vision, dreams and values. Now, I’m not remotely suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn is the ‘saviour’ of the Labour Party, but it is this clash of perspectives and ideals which I find most fascinating.
Peter was in turn rebuked by Jesus who accused him of not having in mind ‘the things of God, but the things of men’. His vision was simply too mundane and too small to comprehend all that God had in store. I don’t know what lies in store for our nation or the Labour Party, but biblically speaking, the ministry of Jesus achieved something way beyond our human imagination, for it provides us all with the possibility of a new start, a new and restored relationship with God which provides us with new possibilities and encourages us to work towards a more loving, fair and just society, with rewards not just for the present moment but for all eternity. That’s what Jesus the Messiah meant when he spoke about the Kingdom of God breaking in and this is a cause of much joy, celebration and hope. Naturally, he wins my vote – what about yours?
‘but what about you? He asked. “who do you say I am?”’ Mark 8.29