Throughout his public life, Jesus frequently lamented the misinterpretation of his message by those who used it to struggle for power. It began when he was a baby, when Herod so feared having his own power stripped away that he murdered innocent children in an effort to kill the newborn leader. Later, people throughout Judah, Galilee, and beyond thought Jesus should be a political Messiah, who would restore the Jews to greatness by throwing off Roman rule and regaining their power. The disciples argued about who would have the exalted position of sitting at his right hand when the kingdom of God came (obviously taking the word “kingdom” quite literally). All of them were focused on themselves, and especially on securing and ensuring as much power as they could achieve. And Jesus wept.
This contrast is clearly illustrated in today’s readings. Jereboam created golden idols and false temples, created his own version of the priesthood, and subverted his people in order to maintain his power, while Jesus sought solidarity with the thousands who had nothing to eat and set about feeding them without asking their credentials, verifying their culture or beliefs, or judging whether they were deserving. Jesus spent his entire ministry countering all the misguided attempts at overthrowing, regaining, retaining, or increasing the power of people, religions, or authorities. Instead, he went out of his way to heal anyone who came, to feed people body and soul, and to teach a message of inclusion, compassion, justice for the poor, and genuine love to the point of self-sacrifice. He tried mightily to correct the false beliefs about his Abba God, who is not a judgmental, vindictive force but a God of unconditional love who desires to be one with us and us with each other, imitating the bond of Jesus with God. He always considered others before himself, rather than shoving them aside and making sure he was first. In fact, he shed any semblance of power that others tried to thrust upon him, and worked for the common good and dignity of all.
So why, after all these years, do we still get it so wrong? It seems to me that too many of our political and legislative positions, with full backing and support by Christian and Catholic lawmakers, are aimed at cutting aid to the neediest and giving huge permanent tax breaks to the richest while “justifying” it with small temporary tax breaks for the lower and middle class. We turn a blind eye to the moral and ethical standing of our leadership, and ignore clear Catholic teaching that the means do not justify the ends, that evil and sin should not be tolerated even in order to get a desired result. We demean, insult, and exclude the “Gentiles” of our day – those of other countries, cultures, or faiths – rather than accepting them, welcoming them, and even learning from them. In an attempt to address this, when I talked with one pastor about the lack of preaching on Sundays about the Church’s social justice principles, he told me they are in the middle of a fund-raising campaign and can’t afford to alienate anyone. He, and many others, choose to remain silent and complacent.
My hope is that we may become an increasingly Christian country that is more like Jesus and more in line with Gospel principles. I fear that isn’t currently true. In the name of Christianity, our nation seems more focused on personal wealth, power and influence. We apathetically or even actively normalize abhorrent behavior and attitudes, and participate in misinformation or outright lies to cover it up. I believe Jesus weeps.
Of course, as always, I have to not only turn the lens on our political and national situation, but back onto myself. These things cannot happen without the acquiescence, or at least the apathy, of vast numbers of citizens. I try to act in my daily life. I do go out of my way to make people smile wherever I travel, to engage and value the cab drivers and hotel personnel who are so often of another culture or faith, and to do random acts of kindness many times a day. I facilitate a support group for widowed people who need healing. I march in protests, write to my Congressional representatives, and donate to organizations providing support, aid, and education to the poor. But no matter what I do it seems insufficient. I need to do more.
I admit that I have not written a letter to my bishop nor tried to encourage others to directly request parish-wide education and preaching on Catholic social justice. Outside of Church, I follow a growing trend in the U.S. of talking politics and justice mainly with people who agree with me about these issues, rather than seriously engaging and respectfully listening to those who take the opposite position, no matter how difficult those conversations may be. I must do better. Jesus’ words and life challenge me to see how I can act, in these and other ways, to become more like Him.
My ultimate goal is to be as transparent an instrument of Christ as I can be, bringing God’s peace, love, and justice to everyone I encounter. I hope that regardless of whether you agree with my political and religious positions, you may join me in that goal. May we also join in praying for worthy leaders willing to both live and enact Gospel principles, and direct our voting to that end. Let’s bring the reign of God to earth, so God’s will may be done and all people may see salvation together.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.