Our nation’s discord is tainting every aspect of the culture. It seems nearly every injury has become a chance to take to the streets, announcing our umbrage to the world. Formerly unity-creating public rituals from professional football games to entertainment awards ceremonies are now subjected to political controversy in ways ranging from the sincere statement to the contemptuously snarky.
Little souls, (flyover people, we’re sometimes called) view the spectacle with a longing for unity and peace. An impossible dream, perhaps, but then again–with God nothing is impossible.
This longing for a way to live peacefully in a time of discord made a New Testament passage I’ve read many times arrest my attention in a fresh way not long ago.
It is helping me realize there is something Christians can do in ever more intentional ways when we feel mocked and misunderstood, surrounded by noise and venom.
It takes place prayerfully in the silence of the heart, but it is an act of violence.
It is to create peace by allowing Christ to kill the hostility within our hearts.
The Liturgy of the Hours Office of Morning Prayer that day included Ephesians 2:13-16, in which St. Paul reflects on the unity Christ achieved on the Cross as God’s creation of a unity between the Hebrew people, His chosen vehicle for revealing Himself to the world, and the nations whom He also loved as they observed from afar and recognized Him in their own ways. Now, Paul says, speaking of Christ:
He is the peace between us, and has made the two into one and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart.
And this is where something new opened in my heart. It’s the why of the broken barrier:
…To create one single New Man in himself out of the two of them and by restoring peace through the Cross to unite them both in a single Body and reconcile them both with God: in his own person he killed the hostility.
I capitalize the personal pronoun here to help myself stay alert to the reality of the Incarnation: In His own person He killed the hostility. A new creation, a true unity, is the purpose of His person.
Think of the conversation He had with Moses and Elijah on Mount Tabor before His death. Luke’s gospel tells us these holy men, the epitome of the Law and the Prophets, “appeared in glory and were speaking of Jesus’ departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” They spoke of the moment He would, in His Person, kill the hostility.
Think of His heartfelt words the night he was betrayed: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Before I restore peace through the Cross to unite humankind into one Body.
Think of His tender understanding that “the flesh is weak,” owning it as He cried in the Garden, “If possible, let this cup pass from me”–yet uniting Himself, for the purpose of uniting us, with the Father’s will.
He knew what He was about.
The reason this unity is not yet achieved comes down to this: we are not yet fully unified with the Person Who, on the Cross, killed the hostility between Israel and the nations and between us and all our fellow human beings.
He holds no distinctions between persons, but we still do. I still do.
Christ continues offering the opportunity, moment by moment, for us to join Him in the place where hostility dies and unity is created. This is still His purpose.
As He announced that the Hour for which he came was upon Him, Christ explained to His disciples that “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Everyone who loses his life saves it, He said, and whoever would serve Him must follow Him.
This “necessary and fruitful death” sometimes leads to a physical martyrdom. But perhaps in our as-yet-untamed egotism, American Christians are a little too eager for the drama of martyrdom witnessed by an audience.
What is a martyr?
Writing of El Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero’s murder in 1980, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller noted in an essay for First Things:
A Christian becomes a martyr by uniting himself to Christ through his willingness to suffer and die for the faith.
Romero paid the ultimate price for living his faith to the full. Consistently preaching the gospel and acting as a firm and passionate advocate for the poor of his country, he was gunned down in church as he said Mass. That makes him a martyr for the faith.
Most of us are not anywhere near a martyrdom of that sort, though we’re pretty good at playing the persecution card when we’re stung by anti-Christian sentiment.
I’m increasingly saddened as I see self-professed Christians in positions of importance in politics and media behaving no better than self-righteous secularists whenever some outrage is committed by their opponents. I’m saddened by the social media feeds of self-identified Christian people who think it’s funny to belittle and mock their enemies.
It’s time to suffer indignity, killing our own red/blue hostility, considering it as a type of willingness to die for the Christian faith, which is far more important than whichever political party is running the show at the moment. We might, for the sake of the gospel, embrace a martyrdom of the heart, a willingness to offer up our own hostility and embrace (through grace) love of God and love of enemy.
To speak truth without venom. To turn the other cheek. To consistently advocate for sound policy without shaming those who see things differently from us. To be doers of the word and not hearers (and Bible quoters) only.
Let the issues of the day sort themselves out as we learn to love those most hostile to us.
Let’s turn off the contentious media and let Him create peace through our willingness to be grains of wheat willing to fall to the earth and die to red/blue hatred and hostility.
Reads & Other Seeds
When I wrote my senators (one red, one blue) about what kind of judge might fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, one of them used the word “extremist” in his reply. That got me thinking about The Extremists We Need Right Now.
Colorado’s oldest newspaper, The Pueblo Chieftain, recently published an editorial I wrote about the suffering of children on the US/Mexico border and the need to recognize the humanity of the unborn. Children Pay Price Over Border Policy links to the article on the Chieftain’s online site.
“The gospel is not a tidy theory that explains the world, a spiritual technique for facing life’s challenges, or a program whereby mankind can redeem itself—by violence or by peace. No, the Cross contradicts all who attempt to decipher the world without God or to submit it to human control.” For a deeper look at the meaning of martyrdom, read Cardinal Müller’s First Things article (a review of The Scandal of Redemption): Óscar Romero: Marytr and Saint.
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