Jesus hung out with all sorts of strange folk, but it was the “good,” successful, and proper people he confronted the most.
Consider the people Jesus describes in the Beatitudes. What do those people look like today?
Jesus promises blessing to those who are poor, who are hungry, who are weeping, who are hated, excluded and insulted.
We’re so convinced Jesus is describing us that we don’t look to see if the shoe fits. We reinterpret what Jesus said to cast ourselves as the good guys. It can’t be the financially or materially poor who receive the Kingdom of God (even though Jesus said so) because that would exclude many of us. He must mean those who feel poor in certain ways. He couldn’t have meant those who can’t afford enough food, as Jesus said, but those who experience a longing for him in their hearts. When in the next breath Jesus pronounces the Woes upon those who are rich and well fed, who manage just fine in society— well, he certainly didn’t mean us—even if I am more likely to throw out food gone bad than worry my children are hungry.
Because, honestly, this is the truth: If Jesus were speaking today and declaring someone blessed in that Kingdom, it would be the woman and children who broke into my condo. No discipleship voices anywhere in my life — no mentors, pastors, or trusted Christian friends — asked me to consider things from that angle. She broke the law. Case closed. I’m the good guy, she’s the bad guy. Period. My responsibility to her ends when justice under the law is restored — or so I’m told.
But based on Jesus’ track record — not to mention the entire Law and Prophets — he would confront me and the other Christians in my neighborhood who are well-fed now, who have a place to live, who are comfortable with a society where there is plenty to go around and yet many go without. In the Prophets, God expressed strong feelings about praise and worship offered to him by people who had not first ensured that everyone in the community had access to basic survival and equitable thriving. Yet do we who are comfortable and well-fed and warm do everything we can to care for our community before lifting our voices and hands in worship? No. Not at all. No church usher has ever asked me this question at the door. We don’t see this as a necessary part of American life or Christian life — even though God commands it again and again and again.
Our insistence on seeing ourselves as the ones Jesus defends — not even considering if we are the ones he challenges — raises questions for me.
Are we so afraid of failure that we are unwilling to be confronted by our trustworthy Savior, the Son of God who loves and dies for his enemies, who uses kindness to bring us to repentance, who made himself nothing to be our servant and point us to God? Worse still,
Is it possible we consider enemies the people Jesus says he will defend?
I’m concerned our insecurities, our fear of displeasing God, of failing, of being asked to walk a hard, hard road not only stop us from hearing the loving, challenging voice of God but block us from even seeing the people Jesus wants to bless.
Earlier I pointed out how much we struggle to imagine God’s all-encompassing love for his enemies (who, conveniently, look so much like our own enemies). Like Jonah, we struggle to accept the gift of God’s mercy and goodness if it means we don’t get to win.
But here is the kicker: God redeeming his enemies is not an affront to us— it is a gift to us.
Because we are the enemies.
We all are. “While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his son.” There is no difference, no us and them. We all are the ones to whom God offers food, water, and hospitality; we are the ones God has promised always to care for and never destroy. God loving his enemies is good news . . . for me. For you. For all of us.
When God does draw boundary lines, he does so for different reasons than we do. When God chooses one person, family, or nation, God does so in order to bless those he did not choose. When God chose Abram and Sarai, it was so that all peoples on earth would be blessed through them. When God set apart the nation of Israel to be his people, it was God’s plan to “make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” God’s end game is this: “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.” Jesus chose disciples not to be the few who would be saved but the ones sent out to serve, to fish for people. The Holy Spirit ignited the church to be a light to the whole world.
When we use our faith to draw enemy lines rather than bless others, we not only miss the point of our mission from God but we invest in the cycles of violence, vengeance and marginalization we are sent to subvert.
Christians cannot be at war with Muslims, even if our government is waging war against Islamic nations; we Christians must serve, welcome, feed, and befriend our Muslim neighbors, strangers, and (if it comes to it) enemies. Christians cannot be at war with folks who prefer to say Happy Holidays and don’t celebrate Christmas; we Christians must put their rights before our own, prayerfully using whatever social influence we have to seek their good. Christians cannot be at war with “liberals” on one side or “fundamentalists” on the other. Our warlike tactics of slander, fearmongering, and “unwholesome talk” are antithetical to the Spirit of Christ. We are empowered to speak our minds in a way that honors others, putting them before ourselves — and, of course, providing hospitality, provision, and care.