Warren Carter’s commentary on Matthew, Matthew and the Margins, has really helped me to grasp the deeper meaning of this familiar passage. Either we join with Jesus and resist the lure of empire and the comfort of being among the elite or we perish. We, as disciples, must deny ourselves. If we do not deny ourselves—turning from anything that hinders “faithful and lived commitment and turning to trust oneself to God’s purposes”—we will perish. Practically speaking, this means that we do not side with the elite, with empire, when empire denies the dignity of human life by advocating and practicing abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, war, torture, racism, classism, sexism. We are to oppose empire when empire opposes the dignity of life.
Last night we watched a documentary on Hiroshima on the 64th anniversary of the unconscionable act. We saw and heard people talk about burns, empty eye sockets, flesh falling from the body of the victims. We heard about the after effects of radiation sickness in those who survived the initial blast. The speakers were not Japanese soldiers. They were civilians, noncombatants, who were children at the time. I kept thinking, “How, God, can we do this to other human beings?” Allowing our government to stockpile and make improvements on our nuclear weapons is complicity in the culture of death, complicity in empire. This is what Jesus tells us we must deny. We must take up the cross and oppose empire—yes, oppose our own government, when it opposes life. I am proud that I criminally trespassed on the Nevada Test Site on the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima to protest nuclear deterrence. Please read the American bishops recent statement on nuclear weapons. http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/nuclear_weapons_and_moral_questions-obrien-2009.pdf
Jesus is warning us. When we take up the cross and oppose empire and its ways of the false collective self, we will suffer the consequences but suffer them as disciples we must. I will never forget the comment Joan and I got when we were describing our work with Pax Christi to someone, “I bet you two do not get invited to a lot of parties.”
Carter says that we continue Jesus’ countercultural work:
. . . it is a call to a life of marginalization, to identify with nobodies like slaves, foreigners, criminals, and those understood to be cursed by God. It is to identify with those who resist the empire’s control, who contest its version of reality, and those who are vulnerable to its reprisals [as Jesus was in crucifixion].
To save one’s life is to follow the wiles of the acquisitive false self. It is to put self interest before the common good [If we extend health care coverage to every American, it might mean that I have to pay more taxes!”]. A person recently wrote in a local paper and said that compassion requires us to oppose government run health care reform. What? Compassion is following Jesus and alleviating human suffering not amassing grain in our own silos.
I heard yesterday that only 40% of Americans now support our stepped up effort in Afghanistan. We get daily reports of civilian casualties. We call it collateral damage. Killing noncombatants is an intrinsic evil, like abortion, which can never be tolerated. We buy into this madness because we want the so-called “security” that the war on terror provides for us. Our only security is in Jesus the Christ. We should take up our crosses and oppose this madness.
We should take up our crosses and opposes our bloated ¾ of a trillion dollars defense budget. When you figure in special appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan the expenditures have risen to over one trillion dollars. [That is $1,000,000,000,000] Our defense budget—the coffers of the congressional-industrial-military complex Eisenhower warned us about—exceeds the total defense expenditures of any of our “enemies” combined many times over. We would not have to cut this anti-life, culture of death budget very much in order to provide access to adequate health care to every American who deserves such care as a creature of God.
Just think what reducing the military budget and providing food, water, and shelter to people in the two thirds world means in reducing terrorism. People might start to like us and not allow other people to harm us. It certainly is worth the risk of taking up our cross and advocating the alleviation of immense poverty.
Some people call our advocacy socialism. Others call it unpatriotic. Jesus calls it discipleship.
Last week was a trying week–unpleasant encounter, death of a former colleague, and Joan’s trip to the hospital. I understood soemthing at some point last week:
I am where I am.
I am where I am supposed to be.
What is happening is supposed to be happening.
God is with Me!!!