It’s a cold, cruel, dog-eat-dog, red in tooth-and-claw world out there. A world of partisanship, tribalisms, and terror. A world of competition, acquisition, might-makes-right and the rich are at the top of the heap.
Am I right?
It’s a cold world out there. The streets are mean. There’s competition between pedestrian and cyclist; between automobile and skateboarder. The streets are means with horns and sirens, drug deals and needles, stemming and addiction.
It’s a hard world out there.
The Anti-Defamation League claims that instances of ant-Semitism are on the rise. And, so too are instances of immigrant-bashing and Islamophobia.
A year ago this week, for terror’s sake, a Florida night club was contorted into the scene of massacre.
On Wednesday: an active shooter at a UPS facility in California killed four human beings.
Also Wednesday: a baseball practice field turned into a killing field.
Politics has gone lethal.
A UN panel recently charged that U.S.-led airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians in Syria.
And yet all of that—all of the above—it’s not the half of it.
It’s a brutish world out there.
A world of fierce, ruthless competition, of violence and bloodshed, of terrorism and rapacious capitalism, of unscrupulous strong men and insatiable, tyrants, of suicide vests and pink swords.
A world in which airplanes, trucks, and vans are wielded as weapons of mass destruction.
It’s a brutish world out there.
So, here’s the truth. Despite what some people would have you believe, there are some truths that are verifiable … Here’s a verifiable, bone fide, historically certifiable truth: the world in which Jesus lived, in which Christianity was born—the first century of the Common Era—was more brutish and unjust, more violent and terrifying than our world. By a lot.
Small comfort, but hear me out.
The first century world of Jesus, the world in which the church was born, was a world without healthcare or pensions, without welfare or public defense lawyers, without affordable housing … or a U.S. Constitution or a Bill of Rights. It was a world in which women were the property of men and slavery was normative … both infant mortality and infanticide were unremarkable for their prevalence.
It was a world of Empire over peasant, of military occupation … and to the victors go the spoils, especially the women and children. A world ruled more by sword than by law …
A world willing to crucify Jesus on the whim of crowd. On a whim! Nailing his hands (can I ask you to take a look at your hands, at their flesh and bone, muscle and tendon and veins?) and nailing his feet to wooden planks. Hanging him there, in plain sight …
Now that’s a cold, hard, mean world.
Christianity was born over against a brutish, patently unjust, might-makes-right, dog-eat-dog, red-in-tooth-and-claw world. It was born in stunning, magnificent defiance of just such a world.
That news may be small comfort, but it means this: that if Jesus and the disciples could do it back then … if the Martha and the Marys’ … if Peter and Paul, and Timothy … if James and John could give such powerful witness to God in the first century … than we can do the same in the 21st.
And here’s the thing: we have the tools, the spiritual equipment, the marching orders, the ethical apparatus to live out and to give witness to a way of life that is magnificent and stunning in its defiance of all that is brutish and competitive.
Here’s how Jesus and his followers did it: Infiltrate. Permeate. Subvert.
Jesus and his followers infiltrated, permeated, and over time, subverted a manifestly brutish world, an unapologetically, pitiless world … disarming it with extravagant kindness, and profligate tenderness … with love of enemy, and turning the other cheek.
It was a wonder to behold.
They refused to meet violence with violence, hatred with hatred. They rejected greed and acquisitiveness declaring them unholy … by prizing humility over pride.
Let’s be clear … they were as gnats against the giant of the empire … but their witness mattered … it made a difference … it became a plumb-line by which moral behaviors are measured.
My friends, our world is bruised and aching. Across the globe, our fellow humans weep and despair. They are aching for what we have, for our Gospel values. Aching for what we have to offer: the finest gifts, the costliest of all … tenderness against brutality; kindness against meanness; peace in holy defiance of all the world’s violence; humility against pride … love of enemy against unholy hatreds … generosity against acquisitiveness … forgiveness against keeping score and against resentments nursed and sustained; patience against immediate gratification; beauty against ugliness.
Let this be our rallying cry, our chant, our mantra: Infiltrate. Permeate. Subvert.
In its first century, Christianity was a movement, a movement with a mission. It was no benign, don’t rock the boat, undertaking … it was a critique, a God-ordained, Christ-sustained critique of a cold, cruel, dog-eat-dog, red-in-tooth-and-claw world. Christianity is a critique and rebuke of a world of partisanship, tribalisms and terror … a holy refutation of a world of pure competition, acquisition, might makes right and the rich are at the top of the heap.
In this 21st century the need is no less.
So, shall we? Will you? Will you, do you dare to go out there and give witness to a way of life that is magnificent and stunning in its defiance of all that is brutish and competitive?
For Christ’s sake, for the world’s sake: Infiltrate. Permeate. Subvert.