Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945)
Vidkun Abraham Quisling was a Norwegian military officer, diplomat, and politician in the first half of the twentieth century. In December of 1939, three months after the Nazi invasion of Poland that began WWII, Quisling went to Germany, unofficially, to meet with Adolph Hitler. Quisling had his own Fascist political ambitions, and he liked what Hitler had to offer; so he said to Hitler, “Let’s work together in Norway.” When Hitler invaded Norway and easily defeated it, Quisling was made the president of a puppet government. Though Quisling had hoped for more power than he was given, he did all he could to serve the Nazi regime, including recruiting soldiers to be slaughtered in the German army, working to crush the efforts of those resisting Hitler, controlling the churches, confiscating Jewish property, and finally rounding up Jewish citizens for deportation to concentration camps. While his fellow citizens suffered greatly under Nazi rule, Quisling did very well, living in a mansion and enjoying the political position and power he always craved.
Then the Nazis were defeated, and a legitimate government was returned to power in Norway. Quisling was arrested, tried, and found guilty of multiple murders, embezzlement, conspiring with a foreign leader, and high treason. In October of 1945 he was executed by a firing squad.
So contemptible was Quisling’s betrayal and collaboration with the Nazis, that his name has become a word in several languages—a word to describe a disgraceful person. The word ‘quisling’ is in our dictionary, defined as “a traitor who collaborates with an enemy force occupying their country.” Quislings are of great help to occupying forces, and are well rewarded for their betrayal. But they are always hated by their fellow countrymen.
Yet, Jesus invited a quisling to be one of his disciples. Matthew, the writer of the first Gospel, was, when he first met Jesus, a tax collector. He collected taxes for the Roman government, that hated foreign power that was occupying the nation of Israel at the time of Jesus. The Jews have always been fiercely independent, and a ‘quisling’ collaborator like Matthew was despised by everyone. So hated were the tax collectors that it was against Jewish religious law to even associate with them. Jesus was often criticized for the way he reached out to Matthew, and then to Zacchaeus, another tax collector, and to others like them.
Opposite of quislings on the political spectrum in occupied nations are those that work to undermine the enemy. Those who are in underground resistance movements are sometimes called freedom fighters, or, revolutionaries. Quisling hunted down and killed all of these people he could find. Fidel Castro was also such a revolutionary, and he fought for a regime change in Cuba. We in America also have a revolution in our history, and we honor such freedom fighters and resistors as Samuel Adams, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and John Adams. Some revolutions turn out better than others. But it is safe to say that quislings and freedom fighters do not ever get along, and each would usually prefer to see those on the other side dead.
There were also freedom fighters at the time of Jesus. The Zealots were the latest in a long line of Jews that resisted any kind of foreign presence, believing that God had intended that his people free. These zealots were a ragtag bunch of fearless guerrilla fighters who had no chance of defeating the Roman army in open warfare; but were very successful at annoying the Romans. These zealots would attack small bands of Roman soldiers, killing however many they could at a time; and then they would blend back into the population. You have heard of Barabbas, the prisoner that was released for the Passover instead of Jesus. Barabbas was one of these freedom fighters. Mark 15:7 tells us this: “A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.” These revolutionaries were dedicated to killing Romans, and, quislings. In fact, all zealots had to take a vow that if they ever had the opportunity, they would slit the throat of a tax collector.
And, Jesus invited one of these violent revolutionaries to be his disciple. Always listed among the twelve disciples is Simon the Zealot. Think about that. In this small band of men that followed Jesus everywhere, there was Matthew the quisling tax-collector, and there was Simon the Zealot, a man pledged to kill tax collectors. My guess would be that when the disciples were traveling with Jesus, Matthew, at first anyway, felt the need to sleep with one eye open.
Most people in occupied nations are not quislings and they are not revolutionaries. Rather, they are somewhere in the middle, trying to keep their head down, live day to day, and make the best of a bad situation. Somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum in Israel at the time of Jesus was the religious establishment. The scribes and Pharisees that we hear so much about in the Gospels were not quislings. They strongly opposed any interference by the Romans in their Jewish religion, and they were willing to sacrifice even their lives to preserve the faith of their ancestors. They were by no means collaborators– but neither were they revolutionaries. These religious leaders were realists who understood the power of Rome, and for the sake of the safety and well-being of the nation, wanted to keep the peace, and so worked with the Roman rulers whenever possible. And Jesus could get along with many of these also. Though none of them were in his closest circle of twelve disciples, he would have frequent, usually friendly discussions with them, often dined in their homes, and, two men of the ruling council, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, were among Jesus’ good friends and strong supporters.
We are not the first nation of people to be divided politically. Jesus also lived in a divided nation. And Jesus said we should follow him, and obey him, and live like he wants us to live. So let’s look at how he handled those divisions. (continued…)