In baptismal awareness we begin to realize that we do not need culture so badly or blindly. In baptismal awareness we realize that we have been called to participate in God's emerging and in-breaking reign of mutuality.
We begin to differentiate ourselves from the culture around us, not because culture is itself bad, but because domination cultures fall short of God's intention for our lives as human beings.
In his own first-century context Jesus saw the Domination culture of the Roman Empire destroying his people, the land and even the Romans themselves. Life could just not go on this way. By Jesus day, the Roman Empire had taken all the land in Galilee and given it to their cronies through tax debt. 85% of the population was very poor and were losing hope that things could change for the better. Many people in our day have lost hope, too.
He fundamentally rejected these responses to the lack of well-being in his time:
- collaboration with domination as a way to survive or have marginal influence
- purity movements that reduce God’s Reign of Mutuality to belief in certain logical statements or the fulfilling of a list of requirements
- separatist movements that seek to create God’s Reign of Mutuality without engaging domination culture
- revolutionary movements that seek to use violence, which only replaces who it is that dominates
- denial about or passive resignation to the status quo
Because he had faced life and its contradictions and had been embraced by God's love, Jesus was free enough of his culture to see that things needed to change. His faith tradition had taught him about the God's Reign of Mutuality - people living within God's influence who seek to embrace life as-it-is and to hold one another as equals.
Jesus heard God's call to love of self, neighbors, neighborhoods and the earth. He saw that the issues confronting his people included all four relational locations:
He knew that to do that he would need to start a movement that that others could join him in working in all four locations. So he began to engage the practice of love in public. We do not always recognize this because we do not know enough about the nuances of first-century culture. Western culture and Christian theology have conspired to make salvation only about individuals and mostly in an afterlife.
Here are two examples of his public leadership:
In the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark Jesus touches a leper to heal him. Lepers were considered unclean and were not allowed into villages. This makes Jesus as unclean as the leper. While Jesus tells the leper to go to the Temple to be declared clean, Jesus himself did not go to the Temple to be cleansed. This is why he cannot go into the villages. But what happens is that the villagers come out to him.
Jesus resisted the purity system of the people of Israel as a tool of oppression toward those who had skin problems (most lepers did not have Hanson's disease). When Jesus challenged this he was also challenging a myriad of other purity laws by which religious leaders oppressed the poor, who were not able to fulfill these purity laws. Jesus was resisting, through nonviolent, active, public means the religious oppression of the poor. Jesus' leadership evokes the leadership of the leper and these poor villagers to join him.
A second example:
In the first-century Mediterranean world, a social superior would slap a slave with the back of his hand. Once this happened, to turn one’s cheek invited a slap from the palm of the hand—something only done to equals. The act of turning one’s cheek when struck was a way to claim one’s dignity and invite the other to move from domination to mutuality. Hence, this was a active, nonviolent response to the dehumanizing ways of the Roman Empire. To "turn the other cheek" then is not an invitation to more abuse, but a courageous act of nonviolent resistance to an oppressive situation.
Jesus expressed the love of God in public, and called others to do so.
When he says: "As the Father has sent me so I send you" (John 20:21) he is asking his disciple of all centuries to follow him in such leadership: Participating with God in the emerging and in-breaking Reign of Mutuality. Jesus did not subscribe to the notion that we need to find a lever big enough to change the world all in one pull. Rather he advocated that his disciples would participate with God in the healing of the world from within, until God completes the work of making all things new.
We certainly do not live in the first century and our challenges are a little different.
- How do we embrace life as it is?
- How do we live together given our different cultures?
- How will we live together respecting the earth and our children?
Jesus calls us to address these challenges with baptismal awareness and the public practice of LOVE until God's Reign of Mutuality is fully realized.
Of course, this does not mean that we must
- have all the answers
- have the right to make others think like us
- work ourselves to death
- We are called to joyfully work on the issues we are called to work on
- We do not need to "win" or get our way because God will make everyone win
- We are a part of the creation that God is seeking to heal in Jesus.
Martin Luther said that Jesus is the "mirror into the heart of God." In Jesus we see that God would rather suffer and die at our hands than do violence to us. In Jesus God invites us to participate in God's emerging and in-breaking reign without having to win because in God all win.
Jesus risked himself in love for his true self, his neighbors, his neighborhood and the earth. His love was honored as a mirror into the heart of God in his resurrection.