There is an interesting dynamic playing out in the media and social media in our country right now. Government leaders are proposing to slash financial support for all kinds of programs that everyday citizens have come to rely on. News reports say that they plan to drastically decrease funding for things like feeding the elderly, transportation, and education. At the same time, media reports also point out that some of these government officials are using large sums of public money for their own comfort and conveniences. Many Americans are outraged by all of this. I am not one of them. I am unsurprised by these developments. And while part of me is bothered by it, I see it as a great challenge – for Christians.
In my opinion, these times present a significant challenge for Christ’s church. On the one hand, there is an apparent schism occurring because some Christians are pointing accusatory fingers at another segment of Christians who helped to elect the current conservative government leaders. While this division appears to fall along racial bounds, it also is a battle between religious conservatives and religious liberals. Regardless of the color or ideology of these 2 camps, the Christian church as a whole – both sides together – have a challenge to face that is reminiscent of the time that our Lord walked the earth as a man.
Jesus Christ was born in a place and as part of a group where suffering and conflict was common. As a Jew, He was a member of an oppressed people, governed by the powerful Roman Empire. The Promised Land of their forefathers had become occupied territory. Many people in Israel were suffering – from disease and poverty. However, not only were the Roman leaders dismissive of their condition, the Israelite religious leaders weren’t much better. These religious leaders (Pharisees & Sadducees) spent a lot of time arguing about what people shouldn’t eat and what they shouldn’t wear, while they themselves enjoyed at least a bit more comfort than their more common Jewish brothers and sisters. So, as a young man, Jesus began to travel throughout the area of Galilee healing people who were suffering. People were desperate for someone who could help them so the crowds began to flock to the young carpenter. At this point, Jesus goes up on a mountain, calls His disciples to Him and delivers a sermon.
Jesus’ sermon that day was focused on the little people – not the government or the religious leaders. He said things like, “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” He also said, “blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” He said that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness would be satisfied, and those who are pure in heart will see God. His Words were comforting. But then he turned to his disciples and gave them their orders. He said, “You are the light of the world…Let your light shine before men in such a way that they will see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 5:14,16) And then, comparing them to the religious leaders, Jesus says to His own disciples, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:20)
I believe that Jesus Christ’s words all those years ago are a challenge to His disciples right here, and right now. We are accurately concerned about whether our government leaders intend to turn away from the citizens (and non-citizens) who are not wealthy. We may even be justified in wondering whether our religious leaders are too caught up in their visions of grandeur to sacrifice for those around them who are in need. But I believe that Jesus’ finger is pointing at the rest of us. Will we do better? Will our righteousness exceed theirs? Will we sacrifice and give to the poor? Will we support the organizations that the government plans to abandon? Will we help young people go to college now that government financial aid is drying up? Will we feed our senior citizens and help our children get a good education? If this country goes dark, it will not be because the government turned out the lights – it will be because OUR light isn’t shining.