Society & Politics

Leadership Lessons from the Public Life of Jesus - Lesson 6 Part 1


Preston Manning, Senior Fellow

This article is the tenth in a series by Preston Manning on leadership lessons from the public life of Jesus. A member of the Canadian House of Commons from 1993 to 2001, founder of two new political parties—the Reform Party of Canada and the Canadian Reform Conservative Allianceand the Leader of the Official Opposition from 1997 to 2000, Preston works with the MI on the development and communication of faith-informed approaches to political leadership and public policy.

The Ministry of Reconciliation
(Part 1 of 2)

As previously mentioned, two of the great rivers of religious thought that cut across the Canadian prairies where much of my own political and religious experience is rooted, are the “evangelical stream” and the “social gospel stream”.

According to the social gospel adherents, the primary purpose of the Christian religion was to heal and strengthen relationships between people. Their favourite New Testament passage was the story from Luke’s gospel of the Good Samaritan[1], the man who "loved his neighbour as himself." According to the evangelicals, the primary purpose of the Christian faith was to establish right relations between people and God. Their favorite New Testament passage was the third chapter of John's gospel, which speaks of the necessity of a spiritual new birth before one can enter or work for the kingdom of God.[2]

Perhaps the most significant thing about these perspectives is that "reconciliation" is the principal concern of both. For evangelicals, reconciliation between human beings and God, or personal salvation; for the social gospel adherents, reconciliation among people, or social justice. But reconciliation and how to achieve it is at the heart of both professions.

Obviously reconciliation should be at the heart of any Christian profession since reconciliation was at the very heart of Jesus’ mission and public work.

But how Jesus went about it, how he ministered reconciliation, was very different from the methodologies most frequently prescribed by the conventional religious and political wisdom of both his time and ours.

Since democratic politics at its highest level is very much about the reconciliation of conflicting interests by non-coercive means, anyone involved in democratic politics today should find Jesus’ approach both relevant and instructive. And of course his approach should be most relevant and instructive to Christian believers engaged in politics since we are called to follow in his footsteps.

Reconciliation Through the Rule of Law

The conventional religious wisdom of the Jewish society in which Jesus was born and raised was that right relationships between human beings and God and between human beings themselves could be achieved by adherence to the rule of law, in particular the Law of God as given to Moses, contained in the Jewish Scriptures, and expounded and expanded by the scribes and the Pharisees. This notion had its non-religious and political counter part in the strong belief of the Romans that societal order could be achieved and maintained by adherence to and the enforcement of Roman law.

As previously discussed[3], the story of reliance on the rule of law to reconcile conflicting interests and restore broken relationships in ancient Israel is one of the most instructive that anyone pursuing a career in politics or lawmaking can examine. In ancient Israel, the law of God, and subsidiary regulations derived from it, sought to govern every aspect of the Hebrews' economic, social, political, and personal life. This exercise was conducted for hundreds of years, with lasting peace and great prosperity promised to those who would obey the laws, and the most dire of penalties meted out to those who failed to keep them.

The most significant thing about this whole socio-religious exercise is that it did not succeed in attaining its ultimate objective—the reconciliation of human beings to God or to each other. Thus the latter-day prophets came to a sobering conclusion: unless laws can be inscribed on the human heart, and not merely written on parchment or tablets of stone, law by itself is insufficient to restore or regulate relationships between people and God or among themselves. In other words, the Hebrews came up against the limits to the rule of law and to the conclusion that something more than law and law enforcement is required to heal and restore strained and broken relationships and to establish harmonious future relationships.

Reconciliation Through Self-Sacrificial Mediation

The latter day prophets, therefore, began to look forward to another, divinely initiated approach to reconciliation—one which Christians believe found its fulfillment in the life and work of Jesus. This approach, reconciliation through non-coercive, self-sacrificial mediation, is thoroughly described in the New Testament Scriptures. Here, God is portrayed as sending, not another law giver, but a uniquely constituted and positioned mediator to restore the relationship of human beings to himself and to each other through sacrificing his own life and interests on their behalf. If the story of the Old Testament is the settlement of relations between the estranged parties through law and judgment, the story of the New Testament is that of an out-of-court settlement.

Significantly, this reconciliation effort is initiated by “the party sinned against” and is motivated by love. It is motivated, not primarily by a love of justice, although the demands of justice must be satisfied, but by the love of God for human beings themselves—“God so loving the world that he gave….”[4] Love in this instance is not presented as an emotion or sentiment, but decisive and continuous action to establish and restore relationships, even turning bad relationships into good. It is the polar opposite of evil that strains and destroy relationships, even turning good relationships into bad.

The New Testament makes clear that this greatest of divine initiatives—reconciliation through self-sacrificial mediation motivated by love—is non-coercive. Human beings are free to accept or reject it, free to accept or reject the person and work of the mediator and the offer of healed relationships that he presents. So if there is one supreme test for distinguishing the expression of genuine Christianity in practice from spurious Christianity (professing Christians seeking public office, take note), it is that genuine Christianity does not seek to impose itself or its solutions on those who choose not to receive it.

At the heart of this mediation effort is Jesus. He is not a judicial mediator, aloof and impersonal, distancing himself from the parties to be reconciled so as to avoid conflict of interest. Instead, he is intimately related to the alienated parties; he embodies and incorporates the interests of both in himself, calling God his father and human beings his brothers and sisters. Rather than avoiding the conflict of interest between them, he accepts, internalizes, and resolves it.

Initially, his mediation effort focuses on communicating extensively with both parties. He represents the people to God in prayer and represents God to the people through teaching. He teaches those who will listen how to pray effectively to God themselves. The restoration of communication, in this case through a third party intimately related to both parties, is necessary for the healing and restoration of relationships to begin.

Finally, the mediation effort is consummated through self-sacrifice—the initiator of the reconciliation process (God) and the mediator (Jesus) paying the price of reconciliation rather than requiring the estranged party to do so. The mediator yields himself to the forces opposed to reconciliation in such a way that their attacks on him—their attack on his life, his teachings, his work, and all he represents—actually facilitates the reconciliation process.[5] The alienated parties are then presented with the option of accepting the mediator’s sacrifice as payment of the price of reconciling each to the other or rejecting it.

In the final analysis, the efficacy of this approach to reconciliation, whether it “works” or not, depends on whether both parties accept the work and sacrifice of the mediator. According to the New Testament writers, the resurrection of Jesus and his acceptance back into fellowship with the Father was conclusive proof that the initiator of the reconciliation process accepted the work of the mediator. Whether human beings accept or reject it is up to us.

Whether as a 21st century person you accept this approach to reconciliation and seek to apply its principles to your own relationships with God and your fellow human beings, is ultimately your decision to make. But in my case, as a young management consultant with political interests and dealing with conflicting interests all the time, when I first began to see Jesus’ approach to reconciliation in this light, I thought it was the most intriguing, other-worldly, and ingenious approach to that challenge that I had ever encountered.

Application of the Jesus Approach to Reconciliation in Ancient Times

It is in the Gospels that Jesus’ personal “ministry of reconciliation” is most thoroughly described, with the Gospel of John having the most to say about its application to the reconciliation of human beings to God—the vertical application.

But, it is in the Book of Acts, written by the Gentile doctor Luke, and in the letters to the early Christians by Paul of Tarsus, the converted Pharisee, that we begin to see the application of Jesus’ approach to the reconciliation of conflicts among human beings themselves—the horizontal application and the application most relevant to the practicing politician.

Consider the following two illustrations: the reconciliation of Jews to Gentiles in the early church and the reconciliation of a run away slave to a slave owner described in Paul’s letter to Philemon.

The Reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles

As is well known, a great gulf existed between Jews and Gentiles in Jesus time, the alienation being so complete and antagonistic that Jesus had to initially warn his first disciples to refrain from even attempting to minister to Gentiles until his disciples’ hearts and habits had been changed through their personal relationship with himself, his teachings, and his Spirit.[6]

The principal mediators of relations between Jews and Gentiles in the early church are the apostles Peter and Paul, in particular the apostle Paul. Note the distinguishing elements of his ministry of reconciliation in this regard and how closely they mirror the non-coercive, self sacrificial approach taught and modelled by Jesus:

  • Paul, once “a Pharisee of the Pharisees” is willing to transform and position himself however he must in order to minister to those alienated from God and himself as a Jew. “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews …. To those not having the law [ Gentiles] I became like one not having the law… so as to win those not having the law.”[7]
  • His ultimate motivation in doing so is love – the self-sacrificial love modelled by the Jesus whom he follows. “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels and have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. … If I give all I possess to the poor, and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain [achieve] nothing.”[8]
  • He communicates constantly with God through his prayers, but he also increasingly communicates the gospel to Gentile audiences through his preaching and writings. He does so often at great risk to himself physically and to his relationship with others (Jews) in the early church who themselves are alienated from Gentiles and are suspicious of Paul’s overtures to them.[9]
  • His approach to the Gentiles is non-coercive. He does not seek to bring Gentiles “under the law” given to Moses and resists the efforts of those who would do so. He cannot compel them, nor does he attempt to do so, to accept either the gospel or a new relationship with the Jewish community within the church. He can only offer Jesus’ way of reconciliation and pray that they will accept it.
  • His ministry of reconciliation involves not the assertion of his rights, but his sacrifice of them. As an apostle who has seen Jesus, he asks the Corinthians, does he not have the right to make a living  (i.e. to receive physical and financial support) from those to whom he ministers? Yes, he does, and he quotes Scripture in support of those rights. And yet, he declares, “I have not used any of these rights. … that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.” In this regard, he likens himself to an athlete who has the right to indulge his body as he pleases, but forgoes that right in order to win the race.[10]
  • And finally, in carrying out this ministry of reconciliation he ultimately sacrifices not just his rights but his own life, being executed by the Romans just as Jesus was.

Reconciliation of a Slave Owner to a Run Away Slave

In Jesus time, slavery was a widespread and accepted institution throughout most of the ancient world and one often reads criticisms that the Christian Scriptures and the early proponents of the gospel of Christ have so little to say about the evil of this institution and the need for its abolition.

I personally find these criticisms odd because when I first began to read the New Testament as the ultimate textbook on the reconciliation of conflicting interests, I discovered that there was an entire New Testament book (though admittedly a short one)—the letter of the Apostle Paul to Philemon—that is entirely focused on this very issue. However, it approaches the abolition of the master-slave relationship in such a very different way from what we might expect (i.e. without reference to laws and political actions to secure abolition) that we can easily fail to recognize it as such.

Philemon, the man to whom Paul’s letter is addressed, is an early Christian. Paul describes him as a dear friend, a fellow worker who shares his faith, a believer who hosts meetings of fellow Christians in his home, and who “refreshes the hearts of the saints”.[11]

But Philemon is also a slave owner, and one of his slaves named Onesimus has run away from his household. Onesimus has also become a Christian believer and has apparently become a servant to Paul while Paul is imprisoned in Rome. Paul has come to have great affection for Onesimus, whom he describes as his son in the faith, just as he has great affection for Philemon. He loves them both.

But now Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon and his intent is to reconcile each to the other and address the relationship between slave and slave owner. He does so, without any reference whatsoever to either Jewish or Roman law, but in accordance with the principles of Jesus’ approach to the reconciliation of conflicting interests.

Love is the Motivation: Paul loves justice but here his reconciliation effort is motivated by his love of both Philemon and Onesimus as human beings and fellow believers. “I am sending him [Onesimus]—who is my very heart—back to you … and I appeal to you [to receive him] on the basis of love.”[12]

A New and Better Relationship is the Objective: “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.”[13] Significantly, Paul goes out of his way to describe Onesimus, the run away slave, not as property as was the common conception of a slave at that time, but as “a man and a brother”.[14]

The Approach Is Non-Coercive: In appealing to Philemon to receive and treat Onesimus as a man and a brother Paul seeks Philemon’s voluntary acceptance of his mediatorial efforts. He is not trying to coerce Philemon’s acceptance; he is particularly not trying to coerce Philemon’s acceptance by exercising ecclesiastical authority (contemporary Christians take note). “Although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. … I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary.”[15]

The Mediator Is Willing to Pay the Price of Reconciliation: It is in this respect that Paul’s effort to reconcile Philemon and Onesimus—abolishing the master-slave relationship and replacing it with a brotherhood based on love—most closely parallels Jesus’ approach to reconciliation.

Paul, the mediator, writes to Philemon, “If you consider me a partner, welcome him [Onesimus] as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand—I will pay it back”.[16]

One can literally imagine Jesus, in opening up the way for humankind to be reconciled to God, using similar language in addressing the Father. “If you consider me a partner, welcome them as you would welcome me. If they have done you any wrong, as they have; if they have sinned against you, as they have; if they owe you anything, as they do, charge it to me, I will pay.” And he did so, on Calvary.

So Paul, practicing the ministry of reconciliation after the fashion of Jesus, abolishes slavery in the household of Philemon, at least as far as the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus is concerned. The approach is not dependent for its success on law, politics, or the exercise of force, unlike the means whereby slavery will one day be abolished throughout the British Empire and the United States. True, it does not abolish the institution of slavery; it does, however, begin to undermine it from within, the slow but certain route to eventual abolition. Neither Paul nor the early church, from their minority positions politically, are yet in any position whatsoever to influence the laws of Rome or to dismantle evil institutions by political and legal means. Nevertheless, the master-slave relationship is broken in this instance, with the potential for multiplication throughout the Christian community, long before the opportunity will present itself to harness the authority of law or political power to the task of institutional abolition.

Implications for Us

Is the “Jesus approach” to reconciliation relevant and applicable to conflict resolution in our time? Can it be practiced by Christians operating at the interface of faith and politics today? These are the questions to be addressed in the next article in this series.

[1] Luke 10:25-37

[2] John 3:1-21

[3] Preston Manning, “The Rule of Law” in Faith and Politics in the Life of Moses (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2013),  35.

[4] John 3:16

[5] I think of this as a sort of spiritual jujitsu whereby the strength and ferocity of the opponent’s attacks are levered against him to the advantage of the one attacked.

[6] Matthew 10:5

[7] 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

[8] 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

[9] Acts 21, 22

[10] I Corinthians 9:1, 3-5, 8-10, 14 -15, 18

[11] Philemon 1:1-7 (NRSV)

[12] Philemon 1:9,12

[13] Philemon 1: 15-16

[14] Philemon 1:16. Centuries later one of the first steps of the campaign to abolish slavery throughout the British empire was to attack the belief that slaves were mere property to be used and abused and to convince the public that slaves were human beings who deserved to be treated as such. Josiah Wedgewood, the pottery manufacturer, aided the cause in this regard by producing a special line of china showing a kneeling African with chains uplifted and beseechingly asking “Am I not a man and a brother?”

[15] Philemon 1:8, 14

[16] Philemon 1:18-19

Source: Marketplace Institute

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