It is all too obvious that Christians may not agree about some dimensions of doctrine and worship. However, wonderfully, most all Christians agree in so many essentials. For example, take Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, from which churches who use the Catholic or Common Lectionary are hearing during these weeks of February before Lent.
Two weekends ago, we heard the Beatitudes, which begin the Sermon on the Mount. It would seem that anyone claiming to be Christian must value and strive to live the Beatitudes. At the same time, we know that even for the most graced and accomplished Christian, the Beatitudes are both counterintuitive and countercultural.
They are counterintuitive because at first response, human nature rarely strives to be poor in spirit, meek, merciful or persecuted. Our initial reaction is to strive after riches, power, status and popularity. In an instinctual manner, we are made to preserve our very self and look after number one. In a simple way of saying it, a part of our human nature says “me first.”
The Beatitudes are counter cultural for similar reasons: most nations or cultures strive to preserve themselves and be wealthy, powerful, safe and secure. Again, simply put from our American perspective, the approach is “America first.” Are “me first” and “America first” Christian responses?
For us as Christians, after the example of Jesus, we are invited and even commanded to live the Beatitudes, striving to be poor in spirit, meek, merciful … and yes, even persecuted. In other words, we are called to put others first, before even self-interest and patriotism. In the paradox that is faith, the very giving up of our lives in Christ is the only way to save our lives! How counterintuitive is that? Interestingly, being counter-cultural means that Christians profess that they are first, foremost, and finally citizens of heaven…not of any country on earth. Do we really believe that?
From the four possible verses of Scripture that can begin the Catholic Rite of Committal, before we bury our beloved’s body in the dust of the earth, as presider, I almost always proclaim Philippians 3:20: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” When all is said and done in life, our greatest hope is that we will be citizens of heaven, for when dead, we will no longer be citizens of any country on earth. Ought we not live every day as inspired citizens of both our country and of heaven? What current events can the Beatitudes better help us discern? Consider presidential executive orders.
Even though every country has a right to build the tallest wall it wants to protect itself or to prohibit immigrants from entering, Christians in such countries ought to wonder long and hard from what they are being protected. If they are protecting themselves from having to be poor in spirit, meek, merciful and persecuted, the tall wall for which they advocate and build here on earth is likely to rise up before them as they gasp their last earthly breath, longing to become a citizen of heaven.
Hopefully, before that point the story in chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel, twenty chapters after the Beatitudes, might come to mind. In that story — the judgment of the nations, Jesus last story before he is conspired against, betrayed and killed — those who chose eternal punishment by their lack of recognition of Jesus in the stranger, innocently and ignorantly ask the Lord “When did we see you…a stranger and not welcome you?”
In fact, the more a Christian knows the Bible, the more that Christian will recall God’s call and command throughout the Scriptures to look after the alien/stranger. Time and time again, God reminds our ancestors and us that we were once aliens, whether in Egypt or when God led us back to the Promised Land from which we wandered. Confer in God’s Word in the Deuteronomic Law (Deuteronomy 10:16-19, 24:19-22) or in the prophets (Jeremiah 7:3-6, Ezekiel 47:21-23, Malachi 3:5), about how strangers ought to be welcomed. Those teachings inspired Jesus, the Word among us, to tell the above story about how welcoming the stranger is a measure for separating the sheep and the goats. Is our generation so far from our own immigrant ancestors that we need to be reminded too? It seems so.
Truly, we are — or at least long to be — thankful and hopeful that President Trump promises to be pro-life and accomplish a host of other blessings for our country. Certainly, he has the right to write executive orders about what may be popular to many in our culture. At the same time, Christians have a right to be discerning and disagree when our culture forgets or ignores its own history and God’s Word. Indeed, we have a right, a call and even a command to be counter-cultural, trumping culture with Christ!
The writer is the pastor for Immaculate Conception, Botkins, St. John, Fryburg, St. Joseph, Wapakoneta, and St. Lawrence, Rhine.