A View From The Vicarage, February, 2017
By the time that you read this, Donald Trump will have been inaugurated as the 45th President of the USA and the moment when the UK Government will instigate Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and with it the formal process by which the UK will cease to be a member of the European Union will almost be upon us. These seismic changes in the global political landscape seem to presage a time when a significant number of people both in the United Kingdom, the USA and across the world are willing and eager to upset the status quo. If the commentators and pundits are correct, it appears that the underlying cause of all of this is that for a growing majority of our fellow citizens believe that the dramatic changes and developments which have taken place in global technology and trade over the past half a century have left them feeling disempowered, disengaged and fundamentally disaffected by the political consensus which has held hegemony since the conclusion of the Second World War or at least the Cold War.
Regrettably it appears that the initial response to this is a surge in support for those who espouse an extreme right wing form of nationalism and zenophobia. It can also be discerned in a comparable rise in extreme religious fundamentalism such as we’ve been witnessing in the multiplication of Jihadist Muslim organisations in many parts of the world.
All of which it seems to me poses a question, what should the Christian response to such developments be? We could pose it in a phrase which gained some currency a few years ago: WWJD. What would Jesus do? I think that the Gospels are actually extremely clear about that. Despite the multitude of voices who advocated a violent revolution against the global superpower of the time, the Roman Empire, Christ never supports such claims. In his response to those who ask him whether it is lawful to pay taxes to the Roman authorities he tells them: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt 22:21)
That doesn’t sound like the reaction of someone who’s actively advocating the violent overthrow of the political establishment. However, neither does Christ advocate passive acceptance of the status quo and his words and actions against injustice and exclusion are some of his most powerful and vehement in the Gospels. He is decidedly not an extreme nationalist or a zenophobe either. The Parable of the Good Samaritan has as its hero someone for whom the majority of his hearers would have regarded as the ultimate example of a “persona non grata”; probably akin to an illegal immigrant in today’s society.
It is abundantly clear that for Christ the Kingdom of Heaven which he inaugurates is freely open and available to everyone whoever, whatever or wherever they are. His followers included zealots, hated tax collectors, prostitutes, those who’d suffered from serious psychological illness and the rest; a truly motley crew!! The only people who are excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven are those who by their own actions exclude themselves. Let’s not forget that the majority of these are the very people who regarded themselves as the leaders and moral guardians of both religion and society and who believed implicitly that they had an automatic right of entry.
So the question remains; how should we react to the seismic changes which appear to be taking place in society? I think that we could do a great deal worse than remind ourselves of Jesus’ answer to the question “What is the greatest commandment?” “The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12: 29-31)
According to Mark, Jesus begins his answer by quoting a passage from the Book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament, still used in Judaism, known as “The Shema” from the Hebrew word for “hear.” As is so often the case Jesus then expands it by adding the second part about loving your neighbour. If we and all people followed this instruction what a different place the world would be? A world in which everybody was treated equally andrespected equally, irrespective of their background, their nationality, their socio-economic status, their religion, their sexual orientation. A world in which people would be respected for who they are rather than for what they are. A world in which violence, hatred, inequality and exploitation would have been utterly expunged. A world in which the Kingdom of God which Christ inaugurated would have become a reality. That world may still be a distant dream but with God’s grace we can all play our own part in making it so right here and right now! We may not be able to change the whole world but we can change ourselves, our families and our communities and that seems to me a very good place to start. The one question remains. Are we up for the challenge?
With my love and prayers, as always