In my most recent column, I said that if Jesus were walking our sidewalks today, he probably wouldn't align himself too closely with either liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans.
This touched off a testy debate on the Web, and divergent opinions in the emails that readers sent me directly, regarding what Jesus would say about current hot-button topics.
Reading these responses, I had a startling thought: Why don't we let Jesus speak for himself? After all, we have four biblical books — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — that purport to record what he said and did on earth.
Often we really don't need to argue over what Jesus might say about some matter, including many of the very issues we face now. He told us plainly.
Here's a sampling of his views, as opposed to what political and religious spin doctors might like us to believe he said.
Talk to us, Jesus!
Taxes. Jesus' critics said, "'Is it lawful to pay a poll tax to Caesar, or not?' But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, '... Show me the coin used for the poll tax.' And they brought him a denarius. And he said to them, 'Whose likeness and inscription is this?' They said to him, 'Caesar's.' Then he said to them, 'Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's'" (Matthew 22:17-21, New American Standard translation).
Good, law-abiding, God-fearing leaders. "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted" (Luke 18:10-14).
Wealth. A young ruler approached Jesus and said, "'Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?' ... Jesus said, 'If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.' But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus said to his disciples, 'Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:16-24).
Poverty. "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. ... But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry" (Luke 6:20-21, 24-25).
Health care. "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went off leaving him half dead. ... But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him, and bandaged up his wounds ... and put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the next day he took two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you.' ... Go and do the same." (Luke 10:30-37).
Public prayer. "And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand praying in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your father who is in secret, and your father who sees in secret will repay you" (Matthew 6:5-6).
Politics. "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting. ... But as it is, my kingdom is not of this realm" (John 18:36).
Who goes to hell: "Then he will also say ... 'Depart from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite me in; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.' Then they themselves will also answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matthew 25:41-46).