Jesus said to his disciples:
â€œIf the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.
If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own;
but because you do not belong to the world,
and I have chosen you out of the world,
the world hates you. (Jn 15: 18-19)
These words sound strange to us today. We usually do not think of ourselves as being hated by the world. In fact, we are usually quite comfortable with the world, unconsciously complicit as we are in its violence, greed and domination. Not that we explicitly choose to be violent, greedy or dominativeâ€”we just enjoy the fruits of empire without thinking.
The Founding Fathers set up a republic to protect their interests. They structured things so that there would be enough of a middle class to protect them from the revenge of the rabble. We fall victim to that ploy without even knowing it. Consumerism dulls our moral sensibilities. Consumerism is the root of structural evil in our world.
We fall prey unless we have been awakened by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. When we are blessed (sometimes it may seem more like a curse) with seeing Jesus as he really was, we begin to sense that we are out of sync with this world. Jesus is not the effete, pious miracle worker of medieval art. Rather, he is the nonviolent rebel challenging Roman hegemony and the priestly complicity in the empire.
The early church knew this. The church as the people of God was its strongest when it was being persecutedâ€”crucified and thrown to the lions. The pain and suffering of the cross tempered the early church like the blast furnace tempers steel. The church stood apart from the world and witnessed to Gospel values. â€œBy this they will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.â€ â€œLove your enemies.â€ â€œPray for those who persecute you.â€ â€œFeed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Shelter the homeless. Clothe the naked. Proclaim a year of jubilee debt relief. Care for the sick. Visit the imprisoned.â€ â€œWash one anotherâ€™s feet.â€
The early church was well aware that Jesus had sent the Paraclete to strengthen them because he had chosen them out of this world. He had chosen them to stand apart and proclaim his nonviolent teachings. The early Christians had to actively resist the empire and its values. Just read Revelation where Babylon was the secret code for Rome.
Enter the alliance with empire. After a few short but powerful centuries, the church got in bed with empire. Constantine recognized the church and neutralized it as a force for good. Once the church identified with empire, it was no longer hated. As the church got assimilated into empire, it was complicit in the work of empireâ€”violence, greed, acquisition, and domination. Whereas Christians could not serve in the military in the pre-Constantinian church, it was not long before men had to be Christians in order to serve in the military. The cross was sacralized into the sword. Instead of beating their swords into plowshares, Christians now willingly beat their plowshares into swords in the name of national security from terrorism.
Today, the churchâ€”at least the institutional component of churchâ€”has ended up on the sidelines railing against abortion, euthanasia, and birth control. Meanwhile, millions were starving to death, dying from preventable or curable diseases, being lethally injected in prisons, and being disappeared around the globe so that empire could have its way. More people die from hunger than from war.
Yes, we can form a long human chain and stand along the roadside on life Sunday to protest abortion but hardly anyone shows up for a rally on the courthouse steps to bear witness when the state is executing someone, when immigrants are being victimized or when our embargos and wars are killing innocent men, women and children, including our own troops.
Hardly a whimper is heard when the government proposes a budget which includes three quarters of a trillion dollars for â€œdefenseâ€ while the rich are given tax cuts and the least among us have less and less money for food, medicine and shelter. Deuteronomy tells us: Let there be no poor among you. Heedless, we blame the poor for their plight and move on to fund national security.
Our goal is not to set out to be hated. Early after 9/11 Cardinal McCarrick defined the role of the church in these difficult times. The role of the church is to create a space for a moral and civil dialogue among people. We become a moral force when we proclaim Gospel values. Archbishop Romero was the darling of empire in El Salvador until he began to proclaim Gospel values. Like Romero, we become a moral force when we challenge empire and try to enter into civil dialogue about poverty, hunger, war, homelessness, immigration, criminals, and budgets [which are moral documents] as well as about the fate of fetuses and stem-cell research. The Gospel brings life and light to all these life issues.
Sometime, in spite of our efforts to forge a civil dialogue, we may end up being hated and despised if we are truly living Gospel values. They will know we are Christiansâ€”hopefully, by the message we proclaim and by our love. We have been chosen to bear witness to Gospel values. The Paraclete, the Advocate, will strengthen us for the task at hand, â€œCome, Holy Spirit. Come.â€