Our culture, and the cultures throughout all of history, place an enormous value on success, productivity, honor and glory. The “American Dream” tells us that anybody, regardless of their circumstances can make something great of themselves with enough hard work and determination. Today’s Gospel is the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He gives a list of who the blessed are, which doesn’t match the common sensibility. But, that’s God’s way–always turning the culture on its head.
There are a lot of different factors that we can point to regarding the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Judas betrayed him, some of the Jewish ruling class wanted him out of the way, Pontius Pilate was weak-minded and fearful…all of them are true. But, ultimately, the thing that killed Jesus was nationalism.
In the Gospel of John, Chapter 11, the Sanhedrin met to discuss how they should handle the Jesus problem. You see, there were lots of extra Jews in Jerusalem because it was Passover. That made the Romans itchy because they never really did get a handle on the Jewish people—they were resistant to occupation (good for them!) and the Zealots resorted to using guerrilla warfare. The Sanhedrin was worried that if there was any upsetment among the crowd the Romans might overreact and make an example of some to prevent an uprising. So, this conversation ensued: “If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” (John 11:48-50)
This is the basis for the arrest and demand for the death of Jesus. Nationalism. And nationalism based in fear; whether economic or xenophobic, is the most dangerous kind.
When we fine Christians agree with sentiments like “America First,” which means that we are forsaking the global community and directly ignoring the welfare of the needy, we are then, in no uncertain terms, are condemning them to death. Is putting America first really making America great again?
America was great because of everything that’s written on the base of the Statue of Liberty. We have committed to being a haven for the distressed, care for the poor, protection the rights of individuals because everyone matters. We were the huddled masses and those longing to be free. There are a very few Americans who can claim that they are not here because their families traveled to America from other lands; possibly fleeing tyranny, poverty, religious persecution, or looking just looking for an opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families. And those who can claim that they didn’t come here that way are currently having their way of life threatened yet again by corporate greed. Heck, it’s just a small population and this is for the good of many. So, that’s fine, isn’t it? That’s what the Sanhedrin thought.
So, this is who we are, now. We close our borders, build walls, defund the poor, ignore the environment, circle our wagons and put America first. Jesus said, “…whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) That’s good, or bad, folks—what we do to others, we do directly to Jesus.
So, this Good Friday, when we read The Passion and say our parts, let’s make our declarations of, “Crucify him!” and “We have no king but Caesar!” with great confidence and gusto instead of the awkward discomfort that we usually have. We’re earning it more day by day.
One of the neatest things about the way that God speaks to us is the consistency of the message.This week, we hear of Isaiah’s prophesy of the light that will come in a time of darkness, Paul’s charge to be united, and the beginning of Jesus’ mission after John’s was completed.
Did you know that you are an apostle? We are an “apostolic faith.” That means that each person who has had the opportunity to know Jesus has the job of sharing Jesus with others. Today’s readings show how God works through our example to help others see the light of God’s presence in the world.
Netflix recently released a film version of The Little Prince, one of my favourite books. They placed the story in the context of a meeting between the author and a little girl who really needed to hear the tale. This little girl was being forced to grow up way before her time; she had loss upon loss heaped upon her without any acknowledgment or assistance in processing it. She lost her father’s presence in her life through divorce, with snow globes he would send from his travels as a poor substitute. Her decisions for her life were replaced by her mother’s vision of life—a barren calendar packed with busy tasks but perfectly empty of meaning or joy.
We are all familiar with the story of the Three Magi (Wise Men, or if you’re from New Jersey, Wise Guys) and the gifts that they brought to Jesus. Our first and second reading also speak of gifts; the extravagant gifts that God lavishes on us—that of inheritance as children of God. These readings speak to more than just ourselves as being the recipients—we are coheirs with God’s children in every race.